Tis the season when college admissions representatives (“reps”) descend on high schools. Prepare to take advantage of this opportunity.
Not all colleges send reps to high schools to recruit students. Some elite and/or small universities combine forces to present sessions off-campus in the evening. Here is an example: https://apps.admissions.yale.edu/portal/events?id=91fe4029-9573-4852-8e3e-546e7aa5c037. Other colleges offer information sessions in various cities – if you are not in a large city, you probably will not see them.
However, a significant number of colleges send reps directly to high schools. These colleges generally assign reps to assess applications from different regions and states; part of their job is to visit schools in their assigned area. This means that reps who visit your school are likely to be part of the team evaluating your application.
The typical rep (not rap) session is devoted to an informal presentation on the merits of the college, followed by questions. Students are usually allowed to skip class to attend. The entire session usually lasts 30-60 minutes.
Most reps confine their visits to the “strongest high schools” in your area. If your school does not typically host college reps, then you should consider examining the website of the strongest schools in your area and choosing one or two information sessions with colleges to which you intend to apply. If you can swing the logistics (traveling from one school to the other, losing class time, etc.) seek permission from the host school (and your own) to attend the information session at the other school. Of course, you will identify yourself to the rep and explain the situation. Your initiative will seize the rep’s attention, which may bolster your admissions chances.
You have several objectives when attending a college information session:
- Learn information about the school that will help you decide whether to apply.
- Learn information about admissions that is not available elsewhere.
- Register your interest in the college and, if possible, impress the rep.
Here are some tips to accomplish these objectives.
- Determine which colleges are sending reps to your area.
Apart from checking with your high school about which colleges are sending reps to the school, most college websites – under “Admissions” – will announce when and where reps will be visiting your area. This may take some digging, but it’s there. If all else fails, call the college’s Admissions office.
- Choose your sessions carefully.
Attending sessions often requires skipping classes or extra-curricular activities. Unless you are seriously interested in the college, skip the session. As one rep notes:
I always felt one of the great ironies of the high school visit was that I was there exhorting students to take the toughest classes, do as well as possible…and then skip them when I came to school. That never made sense to me.
- Research the college.
This is another reason to choose your sessions carefully: you should do some homework on the college before the session.
Determine whether the college cares about “demonstrated interest.” College sessions generally include a “guestbook” where students sign in to register attendance. Reps also hand out their cards, giving the student the opportunity to send “follow-up questions”. Most colleges keep track of students who attended the session as an indicator that the student “demonstrated interest” in the school. But a few do not.
Fortunately, there is data out there from which you can determine which colleges care about demonstrated interest. Begin by checking the college’s website. A few colleges, such as Carnegie Mellon, make it abundantly clear that they do not track this information. See https://admission.enrollment.cmu.edu/pages/eliminating-demonstrated-interest.
Next, check www.collegedata.com, which compiles data submitted by colleges to the U.S. Department of Education. Find your college, and then click on the “Admissions” tab. About halfway down the page, you will find “Selection of Students.”
Here is the data for one elite university.
|Factor||Very Important||Important||Considered||Not Considered|
|Rigor of Secondary School Record||X|
|Level of Applicant’s Interest||X|
|First Generation to Attend College||X|
|Relation with Alumnus||X|
|Religious Affiliation/ Commitment||X|
As you can see above, the ratings are: “Very Important”; “Important”; “Considered”; and “Not Considered.” One of the attributes is “Level of Applicant’s Interest.” Most colleges – including the one above – state that such interest is “Considered.” A few label it as “Important.” That is often a code word for “you’d better go visit that college if you want to win admission.” (Yes, Rice University, I’m looking at you.)
Colleges that state that the Level of Interest is “Not Considered” should be taken at their word. These are often elite colleges that do not want anxious students flooding onto campus simply because they believe they must. Feel free to attend their high school presentation sessions, but do not assume that you are bolstering your admissions chances by doing so.
Note: the “Interview” attribute refers to interviews offered by the college after receiving your application. Most of the colleges which request interviews will offer to have an alumnus interview you close to your location; there is usually no need to visit the school for that purpose. For purposes of deciding whether to attend a rep session, you can ignore this attribute.
We’re just getting started with research here. Know the basics: the college’s location, size (and perhaps gender/racial composition) of its student body, and courses of study available. A quick review of the college’s web site should yield this information.
Then dig a bit deeper: determine the GPA and SAT/ACT scores necessary to be competitive, the schools, departments, and majors for which the school is best known, and some of the colleges for which it typically competes for students. There are several resources where you can find this information, but for a “quick look”, I consult www.collegedata.com. Type in the school name, and choose the “overview”, “admissions”, and “student life” tabs.
Then run the college’s name through a search engine and browse the links which appear, from Wikipedia to various ranking sites (e.g., Niche, Princeton Review). Hard-core readers with plenty of time might look up the school in “College Confidential”, as well.
Finally, you should examine the Common Application (or the Coalition Application or, in a few cases, the college’s own application) and determine what supplemental essays and short-answer questions are contained in the application for the college visiting your high school. Be patient – there is a very good reason for doing so.
Now you are ready to evaluate the rep’s presentation and ask an intelligent question.
Here is a step-by-step guide to getting the most out of the session itself.
- Arrive 5 minutes early. That is enough time to snag a front row seat – you want to be seen – and not so early that you are stuck talking to the rep with nothing to say. Talk to the rep after the session, not before.
- Sign the guestbook.
- Turn off your cell phone and put it away.
- Listen carefully to the presentation; take notes.
The mere act of taking notes marks you as a serious applicant. And you may use the information later.
What should you be listening for?
What does the college consider its strengths? Colleges compete for your attendance. Let them sell the benefits their school offers. Take notes, because at some point in your application to that school you will want to express interest in those benefits. In other words, you will want to tell them – at least briefly – what they want to hear. This is where you connect the information and sales pitch with your answer to their “Why Our College” question.
What information is the rep revealing about admissions policies and/or priorities? Although most colleges simply repeat the information on their websites, sometimes they will deliver a nugget of information you can use. Be alert for suggestions that you apply early, or that the college is looking for certain extracurricular activities. (Although you cannot invent an activity, this information helps you decide which activities to emphasize.) One year a rep from a top college responsible for my student’s region emphasized that he likes to read humorous essays. My client obliged – she was admitted. (Of course, her academic record might have had something to do with it.)
5. Do not ask more than one question during the session.
Asking more than one question may give the impression that you are trying to dominate the session. Of course, if you have a follow-up question, do not be afraid to ask it.
Avoid questions where the answers are apparent on the website. For example, asking about admissions requirements that are set forth on the website makes you look lazy. This is one reason to the research I suggested above.
Ask more general questions that may pertain to your interests, such as:
Question: “I am interested in exploring both sciences and the liberal arts. How difficult is that to do at ________?” “Is it common for students to double-major?”
Question: “How popular is undergraduate research [presuming your interest is in STEM] at ______?” “What are the requirements for students who are interested in performing research?”
Question: “Is there much interaction between the students on campuses and the surrounding community?” “What are the internship (or co-op – where you work full-time) opportunities in the area?” [This question can be tweaked depending on whether you want to know about social, business, or academic opportunities – if you are budding social worker, you may care more about the demographics of the area than other students.]
I list two questions for each topic because another attendee might ask the first one.
After the session ends:
- If you haven’t done so already, sign the guestbook.
- Engage the rep. Start by asking for a business card.
There will probably be a line of students waiting to talk to the rep. If you have plenty to say, then you might want to linger in the back of the line in hopes of being the last student who talks to the rep. You want to be memorable, in a good way.
When you get home after school, if you are still interested in the college, write a quick paragraph (based on your notes) and put it into a file for that college (electronic or visual) for use when drafting your application. Remember to save (or scan) that business card.
And write a thank-you note and e-mail it to the rep. Something simple will do: “Thank you for your information session today at [“X high school”]. I found it very informative and useful.” Noting the high school is important, because reps often visit more than one high school each day.