College Admissions: 9 Tips for Students

college-admissionsIn this world of instant access, the Common App has made it easy for students to apply to larger numbers of colleges than ever before via the Internet. In a 2011 study by the National Association of Admissions Counselors, it was reported that a quarter of freshmen who enrolled in college in fall 2010 applied to seven or more schools. With such a large pool of applicants vying for college admission, and with so many students being equally eligible on an academic level, it has become increasingly important for colleges to determine which students are the most serious about their desire to attend.

“Points of contact” is a term that college admissions officers use to describe interactions with students that they can keep track of, and these interactions can be viewed as a measure of a student’s level of interest in a particular school. The kinds of interactions college admissions officers track vary from school to school, as does the importance placed on them, but typically college admissions officers keep things like phone calls, emails, requests for information, and campus visits in a file on your student. Therefore, it is important that when your child becomes interested in a particular college, he or she makes sure that the college knows it by having these interactions on record.

Colleges “want to know that a student is excited about being there,” says Edward Connor, Dean of College Admissions from Massachusett’s Worcester Polytechnical Institute. Having a student that is active and engaged and happy to be there is generally taken as an indicator that a student will do well at a school, or at least, better than one who is not. One college admissions officer I recently spoke with also notes that a student who has demonstrated interest is a better candidate for scholarship awards.

Of course, high school transcripts, college admissions tests and portfolios are still the main tools of the college admissions process. It just when the applicants have been pared down to an acceptable pool and cuts have to be made that level of interest comes into play. I recently heard from one college admissions officer a story told to her by a high school guidance counselor who had two equally good students trying to get into the same college. When one was chosen over the other, the counselor asked the admissions officer why he made the choice he did. Having only one spot open, and not much else to decide by, the college admissions officer recognized a higher level of interest from the student who was following the school’s Facebook page.

Not all colleges care who’s on their Facebook page however, and Edward Connor notes that level of interest is taken in context with other factors such as how far away a student is from as well as one’s family situation. Even if students are not able to visit their top-choice colleges, they always have the opportunity to interact with the school on some level, so here are a few tips from the college admissions offices I’ve spoken with:

1. Attend a College Fair.
Colleges and universities appoint regional college admissions officers to represent them in all areas of the country and even internationally. These representatives attend college fairs that will most commonly be advertised to students through their high school guidance office. Students can visit the booths of many different colleges and gather information to begin narrowing down their interests. If you see a college you think you’d like, take the opportunity to fill out any kind of sign-in sheet or request for information list that they offer.

2. Attend an off campus information session.

These are smaller gatherings than college fairs, and can be for one specific college or university, or a small grouping of them. If your student has expressed interest in a school at a college fair, made a campus visit, or requested more information through the school’s website or by mail, he or she may recieve an invitation to one of these sessions. If not, you can contact the college you’re interested in and ask when and where these sessions are held. School’s also get your student’s name from the pre-SAT or pre-ACT tests they can take in their sophomore year of high school.

3. Arrange an Interview

Although some competitive colleges require an interview as part of the college admissions process, most do not. You can, however, request an optional informal interview or even a Skype interview by contacting the Admissions Office of many colleges. If you have a particularly shy or nervous student who might not want an interview, don’t force them into an uncomfortable situation.  Even though it’s not likely to be used against them, it’s still best not to leave a shaky impression.

4.Make an “Official” Campus Visit

Many students have the opportunity to get to know more about a particular college by staying with friends or family who already attend it. This is a great way for your child to become familiar with the feel and culture of a school, but it doesn’t score any points with the college admissions office if it’s not known the student is there. Always be sure to let a school know that your child will be, or has been, on campus.

5. Request an Informal Portfolio Review

For students interested in attending a specialized school or program in the creative or visual arts, a portfolio is your most important admissions factor. Similar to college fairs, these schools attend National Portfolio Days where they will give some critique to the work of high school students to help them determine what is needed for a successful portfolio review in the college admissions process. If your student cannot attend one of these events, or even in addition to attending one, you can make arrangements with a particular school for an informal portfolio review where a representative will be able to give your student a little more one-on-one attention, and maybe, stick in someone’s memory.

6. Ask Thoughtful Questions

Let your student take the lead in contacting schools, as this demonstrates level of interest far better than parent contact does. And don’t contact a college admissions office with no other objective than to get noticed. Asking thoughtful questions that cannot be easily answered on the school’s website is the best way to make a positive impression.

7. Answer College Inquiries Promptly

Sometimes a college you have applied to may need to contact you about something that’s missing from your application materials, for instance. Answering the college admissions office promptly shows far more interest than does “getting around to it” at a later date.

8. Colleges See Your FAFSA

When you apply for financial aid, college admissions offices will see your FAFSA application. List your colleges in order of interest on the financial aid application to let them know who your top choices are.

9. Apply Early Decision

Boston University College Admissions Advisor Justin Sayde gives this advice to students vying for his attention, “Applying Early Decision, of course, is the ultimate way to tell BU that we are an applicant’s #1 choice.” This is not the best course of action for every student, only those who have a clear top choice in mind as Early Decision is binding (contingent upon financial aid, if it’s being requested). Try applying Early Action if you don’t want to be locked in.

Diane Thomas is one of the newest members of the StudentAdvisor team. She is the mother two college graduates, two college students, and one high school student searching for a college. Diane is an alumna of Boston University’s College of Communications, and also works part-time as a newspaper photographer.