For college admissions officers, fall marks the beginning of their travel season. An admissions officer may visit a high school where, in past years, a number of students have applied and are currently attending. In those cases, you can set up an appointment through the guidance office. Some colleges offer regional sessions, often conveniently meeting along with other colleges in the same geographic area or that offer similar specialized programs. Many colleges offer interviews with local alumni as a way to give applicants an opportunity to learn about their institution. Impressing an influential alumnus during a face-to-face interview can pay big dividends in the admissions process.
Many colleges set up booths at college fairs to make themselves available to a potentially large group of interested students. Make no mistake, colleges are competing against each other for the best applicants, and they spare no expense Admissions officers travel from across the country, and even abroad. Especially in New Jersey, you are virtually guaranteed that representatives from your college short list will be visiting nearby, as close as your high school gymnasium or a nearby community college, local community center, or conference hall. For high school juniors and seniors, attending and introducing yourself to those admissions officers from those colleges you are interested in should be a top priority. This isn’t the time to be aloof!
You can easily find out when and where college fairs are being held on your high school’s website or through your guidance office. Also, the National Association for Admission Counseling (NACAC) sponsors major college fairs throughout the country with hundreds of colleges that are anxious to market their programs, looking to attract quality potential applicants – just like you. Their website, www.nacac.org, lists two college fairs that are convenient for New Jersey students: The Philadelphia National College Fair to be held on Sunday, October 30, and the Atlantic City National College Fair to be held on Tuesday, November 1. The site also features a searchable list of all college fair exhibitors, so it’s easy to find out which colleges will be attending.
Especially for selective colleges, an applicant’s “demonstrated interest” is an important “tip factor” in the admissions decision. When narrowing down applicants, it certainly helps if the admissions officers know that you’ve expressed a genuine interest in their school and have taken the time to meet with them and learn about their offerings. While simply showing interest in a college will not gain admittance for applicants who do not meet the minimum admissions requirements, it can make all the difference for those students who are right on the cusp of acceptance. A recent study found that many colleges ranked the importance of demonstrated interest right behind the applicant’s essay – even ahead of recommendation letters.
In this highly competitive admissions environment, how can you demonstrate your genuine interest? Actually visiting the campus is the “gold standard” of expression of interest. Students who have taken the time to travel to the school and have spent time on campus are thought to be “serious” candidates. These are the students who have can best ascertain whether the school is the right fit for the, and these are most likely to accept an offer of admission. Colleges prefer to have a high conversion rate of offers and acceptances. Visit the campus BEFORE submitting your application. This way, you can clearly explain why that particular college is right for you, and personal experience is much more powerful than general information anyone can pick up on a college’s website. Of course, you may not be able to physically visit all of your targeted colleges, but at a barebones minimum you should make every effort to attend any information sessions held in your area. If a college admissions officer took the time to visit your area, and was now choosing between you and another student with similar qualifications. You want to be the student who demonstrated a clear interest in the college, not the student who did not even bother to show up to a local event.
Finally, keep can keep yourself on the radar of the admission officer handling your application by sending an occasional email with a well thought-out question, or by providing an update on a recent achievement. But don’t overdo it. There is a fine line between demonstrating an ongoing interest and becoming an annoyance.