As fall rolls around, high school seniors across the country are gearing up for their busiest semester yet: the season of college applications. Don’t get me wrong, senior year is definitely fun – it’s a year of firsts and lasts that you will remember for the rest of your life. But with every ounce of fun comes important considerations and decisions regarding the future. Finding the right college and securing your spot as a member of their Class of 2017 is critical as it will be your home for the next four years of your life.
How do you secure a spot at your dream college? There may not be an exact formula, but one way to increase your chances is simply to network. We know that pre-collegiettes are extremely driven and always eager to make the most of life, so we’ve put together this guide to help you improve your admission chances through making five important connections during your college application process.
1. Your High School Guidance Counselor
Hopefully you have been told by this point that your high school guidance counselor is responsible for writing one of your letters of recommendation. With that said, forging a deep, well-rounded relationship with your guidance counselor is one of the best things you can do for yourself. How might you go about doing this? Make sure to frequently stop by her office and say hi, fill her in on any and all occurrences related to the college application process as well as your academic career, and don’t forget to let your personality shine through! As Mindy Popp, managing director and principal consultant at Popp & Associates, a college counseling service in Wellesley, MA, emphasizes, “The better your guidance counselor knows you, the better your letter will be.”
Sora Hwang, a second year student at Northeastern, recalls, “Throughout high school, I visited my guidance counselor for various reasons, whether I actually needed to discuss something or just catch up. This helped us build an actual relationship where he knew me on a personal level, so whatever he wrote in my recommendation for college wasn’t some generic statement, but something that actually fit me.”
Don’t know how to initiate a meeting with your guidance counselor? Start by sending her a quick email reminding her who you are and asking if she has any time available for a meeting about your academic future. Make sure to express that you recognize how busy her schedule is this time of year. If she doesn’t get back to you over email, try stopping by the guidance offices before or after school and chatting with the guidance department secretary. She should be able to steer you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to make your presence known in the guidance department, but by all means try not to spend every waking hour camped outside your counselor’s office.
Judi Robinovitz, Certified Educational Planner and Founder of Score At The Top in Boca Raton, Florida, warns, “Making this connection might be difficult at a large high school where guidance counselors work with hundreds of kids on a daily basis, but students should try hard to make the connection nevertheless.” Set yourself apart from your peers and focus on cultivating a relationship that will be beneficial during the application process as well as in your academic future.
2. Academic Teachers
In terms of academic letters of recommendation, most universities ask for two written by junior or senior teachers of core curriculum classes (think math, science, English, history, and world language). Robinovitz says, “Senior high school students should have previously made connections with some of their junior year academic teachers. Students are responsible for making sure these teachers know them well enough to craft a stellar letter of recommendation.”
How should you decide which teachers to reach out to? Popp suggests approaching a teacher that you not only have a good relationship with, but in whose class you received good grades. Robinovitz adds that it should be a teacher who really knows you well, is aware of how hard you work, and recognizes your level of intellectual curiosity. She emphasizes that it should be natural relationship, preferably in a class that is relevant to what you plan to study.
Kate Steele, a junior at Boston College, shares, “When considering which of my high school teachers to ask for a letter of recommendation, I knew I wanted to ask my AP English Language and Composition teacher. I loved writing and literature, knew that I wanted to study it in college, and had formed a close bond with that teacher. I knew that she would not only be willing to write a letter, but would be able to include details about both my academic and personal qualities.”
When it comes to approaching these teachers, face-to-face communication is the best option. Popp explains, “Always try to approach the teacher in person. If finding a time to meet with or speak to your teacher proves difficult, email is a second option, but there eventually needs to be an in-person component.”
And to make things a bit easier for your teachers, Robinovitz shared some great advice: “Make sure to send the teacher a bullet point list of inspirational moments in his/her class. This will help them to write a strong, anecdotal letter that will stand out amidst letters with more general claims.” And while you’re at it, include your college preferences (in terms of location, size, majors, or other factors), what careers you find the most appealing, and what extra-curricular activities you are the most dedicated to.
Be sure to exercise those thank-you note-writing skills that you have honed throughout your life. These teachers are going above and beyond their jobs to help you out, so be sure to genuinely thank them.
3. Regional Admissions Representatives
A regional admissions what? This is someone that you are going to definitely want to reach out to. They are the person in charge of your region when it comes to all things admissions. They typically will make high-school visits in your area, attend local college fairs, and sometimes they even are the ones conducting interviews. It is in your best interest to seek out these representatives and introduce yourself.
Katherine Mirani, a sophomore at Northwestern University, shares, “When I visited Johns Hopkins University, the admissions officer said that he always appreciates students who email him directly. He explained that he remembers them and thinks of them when their applications come up. Admissions officers are assigned to read applications by region/state, so if you can figure out which officer will be reading your application at a certain college, you should definitely send them a well-thought out note.”
Robinovitz adds, “During the application process, call or email the representatives with good quality questions about the school. Simply reaching out to this person will help your chance of admission down the road.”
If you are unsure of who your regional admissions representative is, the information is typically located under the undergraduate admissions section of a university’s website. If you can’t find any contact information there, always remember to use your guidance counselor as a resource!
Interviews are a great place to network during the college admissions process, if the college offers them. While there is an ongoing debate on whether these interviews actually influence your chances of being accepted, it never hurts to put yourself out there and learn more about the institution.
According to The Princeton Review, “Not all schools grant interviews, and you shouldn’t freak out if your local admissions rep is too busy to interview you. It doesn’t mean you won’t be admitted.” To find out if your school conducts interviews, check out their admissions website. If you can’t find any information online, send a quick email to the admissions office inquiring about an interview. Some schools will ask potential students to travel to their campus for an interview while others will have a local representative meet you close to home (typically over coffee at a close-by Starbucks or Barnes and Noble).
Robinovitz explains, “How you sit, dress, shake hands, and make eye contact sets the tone for the entire interview. Students also should thoroughly research the college beforehand, so that they can easily express their enthusiasm about the university and ask the interviewer insightful questions about the academic experience that the institution offers.” These interviews are a great learning tool as well as an ideal way to show a university representative that you are a great match. When researching, focus primarily on the university’s academics and any recent press the institution has received. Supplement your academic research with some fun facts about sports teams, dining, dorm life, or the surrounding neighborhood. You can never be over-prepared and the more you know, the easier conversation will flow.
Robinovitz’s biggest piece of advice? “Email your resume to your interviewer in advance and bring a copy of it to the interview as well! This is an easy way to guarantee what you will be talking about.”
5. Alumni & Current Undergraduate Students
While these connections most likely won’t increase your chances of getting in, they are a great way to learn more about the school and get a better sense of whether the school is the best fit for you.
Robinovitz suggests talking to recent graduates and current undergraduates to learn about their personal experiences at the university. A great way to get in contact with current students and recent alumni is through your high school’s guidance department. Counselors have endless connections due to the hundreds of kids they advise every year. If they don’t know a current student, they can direct you to someone who might.
Another way to get in contact with students and alumni is to email the university’s admissions office. They are always happy to put prospective students in contact with current undergraduates.
And Don’t Forget to Network…
If you plan on networking at large-scale events – college fairs, information sessions, college visits, etc. – set yourself apart from the crowd by leaving a calling card with school representatives. Instead of signing your name like every other prospective student, make your own business cards. According to Robinovitz, this will set you apart from thousands of other students in less than a minute.
Words of Wisdom
Encouragement always helps during stressful times, so here are some words of advice from the experts.
“You never know what doors will open, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and network.” – Mindy Popp
“Apply to enough of a range of colleges so that if you don’t get into the school of your dreams, you still have a variety of great options. And don’t be afraid to use your parents as administrative assistants, cheerleaders, and therapists during the college application process.” – Judi Robinovitz
While fall of senior year can be a busy time with classes, sports, extracurricular activities, and good-quality friend time, don’t let the college application process take a back burner. Make sure to keep your mind focused on the future and most importantly, don’t forget to network. It is an easy, fun and social way to better your chances of getting into your dream school.