If you have the opportunity to interview with a representative of an Ivy League school make sure you steer clear of saying…
There are so many ways to ace a college admissions interview; however, two parts of the interview are most crucial: the beginning and the end.
To get into America’s top colleges, you need to demonstrate interest, which is a fancy way of saying, you need to flirt with colleges. Yet, when is just as important as how.
Colleges want to admit students who will accept their offer of admission. Doing so increases their yield (the percentage of admitted students who enroll). A high yield is not just a marker of popularity for the college and a way to boost its rankings; it also strengthens a college’s ability to shape its freshmen class, because a greater number of admitted students can be counted on to attend.
But colleges don’t just rely on yield averages to predict how many students will accept an offer of admission — they also consider an individual applicant’s efforts to forge a relationship with the college. This effort by the student is known as demonstrated interest. Be certain not to underestimate its significance. Demonstrated interest can represent a critical factor for an otherwise qualified applicant, with an increasing role in admissions decisions.
Colleges know that to some extent, substantial demonstrated interest signals a student’s intentions to enroll if admitted. After all, it’s difficult to dedicate the time and genuine interest it takes to make an impact at more than a handful of colleges. Think carefully about which few schools will receive your greatest time and attention.
To enhance your application efforts, look for opportunities to demonstrate your interest by developing your connection with the college and the people who represent it. Here are ten ways to help you get started:
1. Visit the college’s website, find the Admissions page, and submit a request for information. Open — and at least scan — any subsequent email the school sends you. (Yes, the college can track whether or not you opened the email!)
2. While you are on the website, visit the college’s official social media page. Some schools may simply provide a link to, for example, their Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram, and/or iTunes University page. Others may have a more robust social media presence.
Amherst College, for example, provides a grid with social media options for not only the College, but also academic departments, athletic teams, services, and even Amherst’s president. Syracuse University boasts a Social Media Directory with more than 100 listings — you can follow their study abroad programs, residence life, recreation services, sustainability efforts, bookstore, honors program, Greek Life, and much more.
At a minimum, follow the colleges you will be applying to on your favorite social media sites. But also consider more specific selections when they are available — you can share a lot about yourself with the college, and help them to get to know you, by following programs and activities that reflect your interests.
3. Contact your school counselor early in the year to find out when representatives from colleges you are interested in will be visiting your high school. Register for and attend the visit. Before the visit, do some investigating online so you can ask a good question or two.
(A good question is one that is not readily found online and is pertinent to you. Examples are: “I’m planning to major in Computer Science but I’d also like to continue my interest in theatre — are non-majors able to audition for performances?” and “I’m planning to apply for the nursing program. What test scores would make me a strong applicant?”)
Finally, be sure to get the representative’s business card during the visit so you can ask additional questions later. The goal here is to establish a relationship so the representative can get to know you and will recognize the depth of your interest.
4. Register for and attend a college fair. You can find out when and where at NACAC, CTCL, by doing a search for college fairs in your area, by asking your school counselor, and/or by following the college’s social media (number 2 above). At the fair, you’ll speak to the college representative (who may also have visited your school already), ask a good question or two, and pick up their business card if you don’t already have it.
5. Drop a note (email is best) to your regional representative. If you haven’t had a chance to meet them yet, you can often find their contact information on the college website. (If not, call the admissions office and ask them.) In your note, introduce yourself — some basic information would include your name, hometown, high school, and fields of interest. Ask the rep to look for your application in the fall.
The summer before senior year is a great time to do this. You can then ask questions such as if the rep plans to visit your school in the fall; or if you should alter your senior course selections to make you a stronger applicant for admission. Another good time is a few weeks before your campus visit — you can ask if your rep will be on campus and if you can meet with them.
Other good opportunities to send a note are after meeting them (you can thank them for their time and reference something you discussed with them) or after a campus visit (you can tell them how much you enjoyed it and why).
6. Visit the college’s campus if at all possible. This effort is absolutely crucial for students who live within a 3-4 hour drive of the campus. Since a visit could be accomplished in one day, it will be very noticeable if you do not make this effort, especially if it does not present a financial hardship. If you can’t visit, use the online tour feature on the college’s website.
7. If you are able to visit, make the most of it by planning ahead. Request to meet with faculty of the department you are interested in, get a department tour, and/or sit in on a class; eat in the dining hall; chat with current students; and if available, register for an interview or even an overnight visit, where you can stay in a residence hall with a current student. Also check the college’s website for open house days or special tours for specific majors. (If you’re unable to visit, you can still email faculty to ask questions and/or ask your school counselor if they can connect you with a current student.)
8. Visit campus again, if you can, during the fall of senior year.
9. Write a well-considered supplemental essay that highlights what a good fit you are for the school. If you’ve done most of the things listed above, this will be much easier to do.
10. Submit your application for admission well before the deadline. An early application shows you are organized, eager, and most important, a more serious applicant.
One factor in college admissions that many students and their families sometimes overlook is the impact of demonstrating interest. Although the bigger state schools and top-tier colleges often do not track demonstrating interest, many colleges and universities are increasingly monitoring the engagement levels of prospective students.
Colleges are trying to protect their most important statistic called “yield.” A university’s yield is the percentage of students who attend the college out of the number who were admitted to the college. In other words, what are the chances that a student attends if given the opportunity? Colleges like to boast higher yield percentages for obvious reasons: it makes the school seem more desirable and elite. With more high school students than ever before applying to colleges, admissions offices need to distinguish between those students who actually want to attend their institution and those who are just applying as a back-up option. Regardless of how much you want to attend any given school, it’s in your best interest to make each and every college on your list believe that you are seriously considering them as a great option if admitted. And the truth is, you should only apply to colleges that meet your needs. Why apply to a college if you wouldn’t consider attending? If you do get into a college you have no interest in attending, you are potentially taking a seat away from another student who has that school on his or her dream list. Additionally, it creates difficulty for admissions offices when they cannot discern who has their institution high on the list. If colleges think you are likely to attend if granted admission, they may be more likely to admit you.
Anecdotally, I have seen top applicants with straight As and super high standardized test scores get deferred, waitlisted, or even rejected at colleges where they should have been accepted because these students didn’t show such ‘likely’ colleges their interest. Whereas, some of my “B” level students with reasonable but not stellar scores, have gained admissions to these same schools by periodically expressing their interest to these colleges. This is not particularly hard to do but it does add another step to the college admissions process. When a college receives an application from a student after having zero prior contact with that student, many admission officers will call such an applicant a “stealth applicant.” Many colleges are wary of admitting such students.
Demonstrating interest assists colleges in determining prospective students’ likelihood to attend, and it can take on many forms. The most obvious ways of demonstrating interest are visiting the school, signing in with admissions, and taking part in an information session and tour of the campus; however, there are so many other ways to demonstrate interest that you may not have even considered. Once you get your contact information (name and email) onto a college’s “prospective student” list, the school may send you links and pamphlets as a means of helping you learn more about it. Although it may be hard to imagine, some colleges are actually tracking if you open each email, if you click on the links they provide, and how long you spend on the site. Even little, seemingly insignificant actions such as taking time to read a college’s course catalog may count as demonstrating your interest.
Other ways you can demonstrate interest include reaching out to professors within your area of intended major at each school and meeting with them if you are able to visit campus. You can also email admissions counselors merely to express your interest in the school – but you certainly want to take great care not to overdo it or annoy admissions or other college departments and offices. Be as specific as possible regarding why you would like to attend that school. Your email will likely be filed under your name within the prospective students at the college, and by the time you actually apply to the college, your file can be filled with all kinds of demonstrated interest.
It is important to remember that demonstrating interest can help distinguish you from thousands of other applicants if done the right way. Informing colleges of your interest in attending can improve your chances in admission; therefore, do not underestimate the significance of demonstrating interest.
For college-bound high school students, the months between junior and senior years are crucial for jump starting the application process.
It’s also a great time for discovering new interests, adding to your resume, and otherwise positioning yourself for beginning the ultimate transition from high school senior to college freshman.
The first day of the last year of high school will be here before you know it. But in the meantime, here are some ways you can make the most of the summer before senior year:
Work. Options range from scooping ice cream at the shore to organizing a book drive, conducting research, interning on Capitol Hill or hammering nails for Habitat for Humanity. By the time you’ve completed junior year of high school, you should be old enough and responsible enough to work—full or part time, paid or unpaid. Work builds character, introduces career options, teaches skills, and expands your network in important ways. Don’t miss the opportunity to add to your resume while learning something about yourself and others.
Visit Colleges. Campus tours don’t stop just because undergrads are off doing other things. Now is the time to check out the last few colleges on your list and refine your ideas of how location, size or architecture affects your thinking about a particular campus. And by the way, the summer is a great time for having more relaxed conversations with admissions staff, coaches, or professors in departments you may be targeting.
Nail Down the List. Take a deep breath and begin eliminating schools that don’t really appeal or offer what you want. Zero-in on places representing the best fit—academically, socially, and financially—and begin committing to a realistic list of schools to which you intend to apply.
Demonstrate Interest. Beyond visiting campuses, engage in a systematic demonstrated interest campaign. Be proactive by getting on mailing lists, requesting information, initiating correspondence, getting to know regional representatives and attending local events. In addition to showing your favorite schools a little love, you might just learn something important about campus culture or new initiatives colleges want to introduce to prospective applicants.
Get Organized. There are a zillion moving parts to the college admissions process. Get a handle on them by creating a spreadsheet of colleges on your list and noting deadlines, requirements (recommendations, test score submission, interviews), important admissions policies (non-binding early action vs. binding early decision), and application quirks (supplements, scholarships, honors programs/colleges). Also, make note of which colleges use the Common Application, the Universal College Application (UCA), the Coalition Application or other school-based forms.
Prepare your Resume. If you don’t have one already, put together a resume or a detailed written list of accomplishments and activities. Turn it into a PDF for sharing with others or uploading with applications. Explore online resume templates, such as ZeeMee or Linked In. If you know colleges on your list partner with ZeeMee, consider creating a private account before the end of the summer
Do the Clerical Part. There’s no reason not to complete the simple stuff early in the summer by opening applications and entering basic information. All three major platforms are capable of rolling information from one year to the next and encourage the completion of questions that are unlikely to change. So do it. The Coalition and the UCA are set up so that colleges can launch as early as July 1. The Common Application will be ready to go on August 1. Other applications and supplements will appear on websites as the summer progresses. If you start shared elements of your applications, you will be one step ahead.
Draft Essays. Now is the time to begin brainstorming and drafting essays. Explore a variety of topics and don’t be afraid to change direction or discard work that’s going nowhere. This is the advantage of writing and reflecting during summer months before the pressures of senior year cut into Zen time. While essay prompts for personal statements have been posted for months, college-specific supplements and essays will roll out over the course of the summer. Keep checking websites and make note of prompts as they appear. And then start writing!
Prep for Standardized Tests. You’ve probably taken the ACT and/or the SAT at least once. If you didn’t knock the ball out of the park the first time (and most don’t), plan to prep for a retake. SAT now offers an August test, in addition to October. ACT has a test in September and in 2018 will have one in July. For the most part, scores from these tests will be returned in time for you to make the earliest of early deadlines. Get a tutor, sign-up for classes or simply sit at the kitchen table and take timed practice tests.
Research and Apply for Scholarships. The scholarship hunt should begin now—not after all your college applications have been submitted. A surprising number of scholarships have applications due early in the school year and use essay prompts similar to those you’re working on for colleges. Use FastWeb or Cappex to get an overview of what’s out there. And while you’re at it, explore FAFSA4caster with your parents for a little reality testing and apply early for that all-important Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. FAFSA goes live on October 1, but there’s nothing to be gained by waiting until then to sign-up for the FSA ID.
Secure Recommendations. If you haven’t done so already, try to get in touch with at least two core academic teachers from junior year to ask for college recommendations. You may or may not need both, but it’s always a good idea to have two teachers willing to support you. Don’t delay—teachers may limit the number of recommendations they’re willing to write or they may want to get started before school begins. And be sure to provide recommenders with whatever background information they request—at a minimum, a resume and cover note reinforcing your appreciation and why you asked them to play this important role in your application process.
Schedule Interviews. Many colleges offer on-campus interviews during the summer. You want to be able to check these requirements off your list sooner rather than later. Colleges make it easy to combine interviews with campus tours, but you have to schedule early to get days and times that work for you.
Position Yourself for Fall Classes. Be aware that senior year courses and grades can be very important in admissions decisions. Colleges want to see upward trends in grades, and they care very much that you continue to challenge yourself academically. Obtain texts for any challenging or AP/IB classes and “study forward” during the summer. If necessary, give your tutor a call and go over the first few chapters of material you know will keep you up late at night come September.
Read, Relax, Enjoy Yourself and Connect with Friends. A year from now, you’ll be packing your bags!
“I’ll visit the campus if I’m admitted. Visiting takes too much time; besides, I’ll probably just go to the top school that admits me.”
For students who have the means to travel, but who plan to give more weight to rankings than personal fit in their final college choice, skipping exploratory college visits might represent a reasoned admissions strategy.
“After all,” they surmise, “wouldn’t it be a waste of time to explore a college in person before you even know if you will receive an offer of admission?”
No, for so many reasons that have nothing to do with rankings. But regardless of how you plan to select among any of your admission offers, a preliminary college visit can affect whether or not that offer is even made.
To put yourself in the best position possible as a candidate for admission, visit the campus before you submit your application. Here are three times you’ll be glad you did:
1. When the school tracks demonstrated interest
Many schools track demonstrated interest in the hopes of increasing their yield (the percentage of students offered admission who enroll). Since schools only want to admit students who will accept their offer, they use big data to gauge your enrollment intentions; a visit to campus will help you signal your intentions to enroll (if admitted) more convincingly.
Beyond the admissions presentation and campus tour, your visit provides additional opportunities to demonstrate interest, such as introducing yourself to your regional admissions representative (that’s the person who will manage your application) or setting up an on-campus interview. The more communication you initiate, the greater your level of interest and your likelihood of accepting an offer of admission (according to the enrollment management software that will be tracking it); therefore, the greater your chances of receiving one.
2. When the essay prompt is: “Why Us?”
Supplemental essays provide a college with more information about you. The most common supplemental essay prompt is some version of “Why Us?”
- How did you first learn about Vassar and what aspects of our college do you find appealing?
- What are the unique qualities of Northwestern that make you want to attend?
- What excites you about attending Notre Dame?
- Please discuss why you consider Duke to be a good match for you
If you have visited campus you will be able to enhance any “Why Us?” essays with references to your own live experiences. Your genuine, specific observations or anecdotes will help you make more concrete connections between what you are looking for and what the college offers, resulting in a better supplemental essay. Better essays increase your odds of admission.
3. When you are placed on the waitlist
Students who receive a waitlist spot each spring in lieu of an offer usually have to move on — the chances of that changing to an offer of admission are usually slim.
But if this happens to you at a school you still very much want to attend, you can ask for further consideration. You’ll strengthen your position if you can point to continued academic success, recent achievements, and the school’s place as your top choice. While you are making your case — and making it clear that you will attend if admitted — think about how much more believable you will be if you can mention your campus visit…
Colleges certainly understand when expenses and long distance prevent students from coming to campus before they apply. But if you can manage to get there on a weekend or school holiday, consider how you may increase your admission possibilities by scheduling a visit before you apply.
No matter how much you think you know about a college, there’s always more to learn. And the best way to add to your knowledge of campus culture, the kinds of students who attend and how they relate to one another, who serves on faculty, how programs and majors are structured, the quality and availability of student services, and the general “feel” of a college is by taking the time to visit.
Colleges know they are more likely to attract students who schedule information sessions and take tours. And they put a great deal of time and thought into considering how they present themselves to the outside world. It’s up to the visitor to look deeper—go off the beaten path and do a little independent investigative work by talking to students and observing campus life.
While colleges may consider the visit as “demonstrating interest,” you need to think of it as doing your due diligence—an opportunity to truly understand why a college deserves to be on your list. In so doing, you’ll be rewarded with a solid foundation for articulating in an essay or during an interview why it is you want to attend a particular college or university.
But it’s hard to get a clear picture beyond basic bricks and mortar if you schedule time on campus during student holidays. For that reason, you might want to take into consideration “spring break” weeks when putting together plans for a college road trip during the coming months. And luckily, there are two really good resources for you to use:
Springbreak.com: Mostly targeted to college students anxious to book flights and hotels, this site provides start dates for an impressive number of colleges listed alphabetically—from Adelphi (March 11) to Yale (March 4).
STS Travel: Again, this list is designed to help undergrads plan their vacations, and sorts colleges by dates—from Augustana (February 18) to Elmira (April 15). Note that the links STS provides don’t take you to college websites!
Hopefully your spring break won’t coincide with their spring break. But if it does, remember that a campus visit under less-than-perfect circumstances is better than no visit at all. It’s just that important!
Nancy Griesemer is an independent educational consultant and founder of College Explorations LLC. She has written extensively and authoritatively about the college admissions process and related topics since 2009. Never miss one of Nancy’s articles – subscribe to her mailing list below.
There is something special about meeting someone at night. If you find yourself scheduled for an evening interview with a college on your list, rise to the occasion as the sun sets.
For many seniors, January is a time to check out. Bad idea. Don’t assume the colleges that you’ve applied to have everything they need in order to start reviewing your application. Proactively follow up with college a few days after you believe they should have everything they need to start reviewing your application file in order to ensure that they in fact do. Otherwise, your application may be put on ice for too long during the all-important winter review season.