Monday Memo – Why It’s Important to Speak with A College Admissions Representative
Author: Dr. Aviva Hirschfeld Legatt
I used to work as Senior Associate Director of Special Programs and Admissions in the Undergraduate Division of The Wharton School. We had a TON of applications to Wharton (I don’t need to bore you with the stats!), but very few of these students were brave enough to ask questions and gather information before applying. The ones who did reach out had the opportunity to benefit from the information provided, and from positive impressions we could recall in committee (Except for when certain applicants offered us a bribe. That was not the right approach.).
I’ll let you in on a little secret. The college application process is preparation for the “real world.” The journey of preparing for and putting together your college applications should be very similar to how you would approach a job search or a career change. In a job search. you might hear the phrase, it’s not always what you know; it’s who you know. Well, guess what? This mantra this applies to college admissions too. So if you can’t make a personal connection with someone at the college, you’re potentially undercutting your own competitiveness.
Aside from increasing your competitiveness to college through relationships, if you don’t ask questions to the people at the college, how will you know why you want to go there? In your essay, you won’t have many reasons to give for why you want to attend other than the presence of “illustrious faculty” and a “prestigious reputation.” But sharing these reasons will make you sound like almost every other applicant, and these reasons are hollow. Why? Because they tell us nothing about who you are and what you would contribute to the college.
In summary, it is important to speak with a college admissions representative for several reasons.
1) You want to be more than a number in competitive college admissions. Admissions officers have a heap of data to deal with–including essays, recommendations, test scores and grades. When an admissions officer knows you personally, you can build a relationship that humanizes your identity in the review.
2) To learn the culture of the college. Admissions officers are the face of the institution to prospective students. If you don’t like what you see or what you’re hearing, chances are you might not like it at the college. This rule of thumb goes for the elite colleges too. You have to listen to what college admissions officers are telling you with a critical ear and reflect on how their message resonates with you personally.
3) To keep in touch. Once you’ve made initial contact with an admissions officer or professor, you can build your relationship organically by providing updates and asking thoughtful questions. Remember not to bombard anyone with emails; you should be able to explain to yourself why you have chosen to send a particular message to an admissions officer (and why that timing is strategic).
In summary, college admissions is NOT a numbers game, reliant on test scores only. It’s a human connection that provides an opportunity for applicants to build awareness about who you are and what you have to offer the world. When college admissions officers know who you are, they’re going to be interested in you. They’re going to learn about your values, and assess if YOU can offer a benefit to them by attending their college/university. Students can be part of shaping that conversation by reaching out to admissions officers. If students can talk clearly about what they do and why they’ll do it, they’ll have the opportunity to earn the trust and praise of college admissions officers.
Dr. Aviva Hirschfeld Legatt
College and Graduate Admissions Coach and Owner, VivED Consulting LLC
Affiliated Faculty, University of Pennsylvania Organizational Dynamics Program
High-Performance Team Observer, Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania