Every fall and spring, most students miss the greatest opportunity they have to impress the admissions department of dozens of colleges that might be a perfect fit for them. To take advantage of this opportunity, you don’t have to travel or write an essay. You don’t have to study for it and it doesn’t require you to get up early. In fact, it comes to you. Yet year after year, when I ask my students whether they’ve availed themselves of this free, easy, potent tool for getting into college, they look at me with blank stares.
When colleges come to visit our local high school, very often only a handful of students show up out of a combined junior and senior class of over a thousand. All of the other students are wasting a huge potential advantage.
Here’s what THE COLLEGES do:
College admissions departments make appointments with high schools all over the country. They schedule a visit of about 45 minutes to an hour on a particular day, and a list of these visits is usually kept in your high school guidance department. (In my local high school, you can even have these visits synced with your google calendar, but in other schools, the appointment list is either online or available in guidance.) At the appointed time, the admission counselor gives a brief presentation and asks if there are any questions. Very often, he or she asks the students present to complete an interest form or merely to list their names and contact information on an index card. Students have an opportunity to chat with this admissions counselor in an informal way.
After the appointment, the admissions counselor makes notes about his or her impression of the students who attended for later follow-up. Very often, that admissions person is in charge of a certain region in the country and will be making admission decisions for those same students. They often think of the students they meet as “their” students and look forward to getting and considering their applications. As you can imagine, it’s a significant advantage to have an admissions representative look out for your application and give it personal and careful attention.
Here’s what YOU should do:
Check your guidance department for the list of which colleges come and when. You often have to sign up for these visits with your guidance counselor in advance. When the day and time comes for the college admissions visit, you’ll have to leave whatever class you’re in, often mid-class, but if you’ve signed up in advance, the teacher will excuse you. (Different schools have different procedures, but usually the visits are during the school day, and teachers are instructed to allow students to attend even if there’s a test scheduled.) Arrive promptly at the designated room. Listen politely, take notes where appropriate, smile and look engaged. Most importantly, ask questions. Since you’ve signed up in advance for this visit, you’ll be able to do a bit of research online about each college. Ask questions that you could not find the answer to online. Some appropriate questions might be:
- How popular is my major at your school?
- Is there help finding employment after I graduate?
- Tell me about freshman housing.
- What weight does your school place on AP courses / SAT or ACT results / grades?
- If I’m not sure what I want to major in, should I guess or apply undecided?
- Will there be a faculty adviser available to help me choose classes?
At the end of the talk, shake hand with the admissions person, thank him or her for coming, and get a contact name and/or email address for further questions (and use that info to write a quick thank-you email that afternoon).
What if you’re not sure you want to apply to a certain school? Should you still go to the college visit?
Absolutely! You might find a school you weren’t even considering is a better fit for you than you thought. Even if you decide a certain school isn’t right for you, you might hear another student ask a question you hadn’t even thought to ask. And every time you speak to an admissions person, you’ll become more at ease and polished. So don’t hesitate to go to as many of these appointments as you can.
Nearly all students who apply to the colleges that interest you will have about the same GPA, about the same SAT and ACT scores, very similar activities, and glowing teacher recommendations. How can you stand out? Be your most charming self with the person who is going to make your admission decision! They can’t make it any easier for you to make a good impression.
If you have any questions, please contact me or your guidance counselor.