By the beginning of my senior year, I knew I wanted to go to Boston University. I fell in love with the city atmosphere and was blown away by the College of Communication. I was thrilled when I heard that a representative from BU was coming to my high school for an informational meeting, but I instantly became anxious when I saw dozens of other students at the meeting. While I knew some people were just there to get out of class, an unexpected rush of competiveness overwhelmed me. How could I possibly show this representative how much I loved Boston University? Applying to college is stressful: the results are partially out of your control and when it comes to your future, that’s kind of scary. However, it’s extremely important to make yourself stand out in front of college representatives. But what are you supposed to do? Don’t worry, pre-collegiettes, HC has the guide to wowing college admissions officers.
What Are Admissions Officers Looking For?
The first step to wowing college admissions officers is figuring out exactly what they are looking for in prospective students. While grades and extracurriculars are crucial to achieving college application success, it’s important for you to show reps that you’re genuinely interested in the school too.
“One of the biggest ways a student can stand out is doing some research of their own before they come to campus or attend an off campus event, like a college fair,” advises Tim Kelly, Assistant Director of Admissions at Boston University. Easier said than done, right? Wrong! Remember all of those college pamphlets that your mom has made you keep in a little pile? You can learn so much by just flipping through one of those! Or what about the emails that you’re very tempted to delete? I know they’re extremely annoying—I still get an email or two from random universities—but you should definitely look through them: there may be a college that’s perfect for you but that you wouldn’t know about if you didn’t check your email! And don’t forget to try checking out a college’s website. You’d be surprised how much you can learn from just clicking around. If you talk to a representative after reading up on their university, you’ll sound informed and interested!
Informational Meetings Versus College Fairs
At the beginning of senior year, you start to hear phrases like “college meetings” and “college fairs.” What’s the difference? While college fairs and informational meetings are different, attending one—or both, if that floats your boat—is a great way to show how interested you are in a university.
The college fair is like a big buffet for postsecondary education. According to the National Associations for College Admission Counseling, the National College Fair gives over 500,000 students a chance to learn more about numerous college and universities. And with those numbers, you can expect a college fair to be chaos. “Fairs are often hectic, busy, and sometimes it can be hard to visit the tables of each college you’re interested in,” Kelly says. National college fairs usually visit cities, but your high school may set up a smaller college fair for your grade. If you plan on going to a college fair, Mr. Kelly suggests you prepare: “If you have access to a list of colleges attending a college fair, it can be helpful to plan out which college to see first and what specific questions you plan to ask about.”
Similar to college fairs, informational meetings are a way to learn about different colleges. They usually take place during school and are much smaller than a college fair. Unlike college fairs, informational meetings usually only involve one college, which makes it easier to ask a representative questions.
How to Prep
Now that you know the basics of college representatives, college fairs, and informational meetings, it’s time to take it up a notch and learn exactly how to impress! It all starts with some preparation. You shouldn’t plan what to ask them weeks ahead; however, doing some research and thinking of questions a night or two before you encounter the representative is a great way to prepare.
Research is Key
While there’s no need to have the pamphlet memorized, it’s good to know basic facts about a college. “I find the most helpful conversations I have with students are when students already have a general idea about BU and we can spend our time on more specific and qualitative questions, as opposed to numerous questions and statistics,” Kelly says. Obviously, you’re not going to make flashcards about a college—save that for the SATs—but here are some things you should be sure to know:
- City School versus Campus Atmosphere
- Co-Ed or Single Sex College
- Average Size (i.e., Small, Medium, Large)
- What major you’d be interested in
- Sports teams
Katherine Mirani, a freshman at Northwestern University, learned the consequences of not doing her research. “At the only college fair I went to, I totally screwed up with the Smith representative. I didn’t know Smith was a women’s college so I told her that I thought the school would be better for my guy friend than for me. He laughed nervously and glared at me,” Katherine says. If you don’t know much about a college, don’t plan on talking to a representative. Instead, take a pamphlet and the representative’s business card so you can contact her later.
Informational meetings are filled with nervous students frantically asking questions. You can stand out by planning some really awesome questions ahead of time. But which questions are annoying and which are thoughtful? When deciding what you should ask, keep a couple things in mind:
- If you can find it in the pamphlet, don’t ask about it!
- If you’re at a college informational meeting, does this question only pertain to you? If that’s the case, maybe it would be better to save it for an email or a private conversation after the meeting.
- Stay away from questions that might seem creative, but are actually generic. “I’m not crazy about the ‘what’s your favorite part of Tufts?’ question,” says Nick Sourbis, a representative for the Tufts Alumni Recruitment program.
- Extracurriculars, on the other hand, are a great thing to ask about: questions about clubs and organizations show that you aren’t just interested in the school for their academics and want to get involved on campus, as long as what you’re asking about isn’t too specific (e.g., “do you have a juggling club?”).
- The recruiter is not a frat party connoisseur: ask him or her questions about the school, not about the social scene. Save those questions for college students themselves!
- If you’re talking to a representative one-on-one, it would be a great idea to discuss the potential majors: it will help paint a picture of you actually attending their school!
- Study abroad programs are a great way to say, “I like what the school offers, not just the pretty campus.”
“One student asked me how Tufts impacted my career,” says Karen Sourbis, wife of Nick Sourbis and fellow Alumni representative. “It was a good question for me, since my major was so unrelated to anything I have done in my life, but since I love Tufts and I consider my education invaluable, I had to do some thinking.”
When Tarina Quraishi, a sophomore at Harvard University, began to apply to college, she made sure to make every question count: “I think if you ask the questions that really interest you, the college reps will be impressed with your maturity and people skills.” She has a point: if you’re not interested in a question, what’s the point of asking it? Not only will you dazzle college reps with questions that actually matter to you, but you’ll learn more about the school as well!
How to Impress
So you’ve thought about your questions and done all of your research, but how do you really “wow” the college representatives? Believe it or not, it’s as easy as being yourself!
Socialize, Socialize, Socialize!
Talking to a college representative speaks volumes, literally. It’s so easy to quietly sit at an informational meeting or to grab a brochure and run away at a college fair; however, it’s important to develop a conversation with admission advisors. But you may feel like you’re too nervous to strike up a conversation, so what do you do?
Kelly advises not to overthink it: “Sometimes the easiest way to start out is to introduce yourself and ask a simple question or two about their college or university.” You should definitely have an idea of what you want to say, but remember that conversations are a two-way street: you can never plan them! “It’s important to see the ability to communicate effectively and naturally; don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, tell me about yourself and what interests you,” says Nick. Representatives have met many, many prospective students, and they know exactly who’s nervous and who isn’t. Instead of being thrown into the “petrified student” category, take a deep break and act natural!
Get Their Business Card
After utilizing your oh-so-fabulous networking skills, ask the representative for a business card. This shouldn’t be as nerve-wracking as asking for a number from that cutie you’ve been shamelessly flirting with: college representatives want to help you and answer your questions. Even if you haven’t had a chance to have a long conversation with a representative, still ask for a business card. It will show that you’re interested in the university.
While some students think you should give a representative a resume or business card, it’s not necessary! “It’s often easier to proactively be in touch with a representative if a student has questions. We get resumes along with applications so while it’s important during an application, sending one in before so might not be as helpful,” Kelly says.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully talked to a college representative, which means the most intimidating part of this “wowing” process is over! But here comes the most important part: making a good impression that will truly last. College representatives meet so many students every year. While asking the right questions and being well-versed in the college pamphlet are great ways to impress a rep, what you do after will really imprint you in their memory.
Never Underestimate the Power of an Email
They say a little goes a long way, and that applies to an email. At most informational meetings, college advisers share their contact information. They don’t do this out of obligation: college representatives want to answer your questions! It’s important to let the representative know how much you enjoyed their visit. Not only will an email trigger more conversation about the college, but it will also leave you seeming polite and enthusiastic. Here’s a sample email that’s clear, concise, and appreciative:
Dear Mr./Ms. [Representative’s last name, they’re not your BFF],
For an Informational Meeting: Thank you so much for visiting [the name of your high school: it will help identify you]. I learned a lot about [Name of College] and appreciate you coming to talk to us.
For a College Fair Visit: I attended the [name of college fair] and I wanted to thank you for answering my questions [This is only if you asked questions. If not, just introduce yourself and ask a question or two if you have any].
Thank you again for your help and I look forward to applying to [NAME OF COLLEGE].
Every representative you thank will be grateful for your appreciation and interest in their school. Personally, I love corresponding through email: I always think of good questions to ask after the fact, so a follow-up email is the perfect way to make yourself stand out. Plus, you have time to think about exactly what you want to say!
Keep in Touch!
There’s no need to stop the conversation just because the college fair or informational meeting is over. Definitely let the representatives know what you’re up to! When Alice Chen, a senior at Emory University, was applying to college, she made sure to keep the conversation going. “Follow up when you tell admissions counselors you’ll get in touch. I actually stayed in touch with a few counselors throughout the application process, and during the process they were able to get me in touch with people from, for example, certain departments and programs I was interested in,” says Alice.
Not only will the continued discussion “wow” college representatives, but it’ll help you figure out what you’re looking for in a university. “I don’t know if this actually helped my chances of getting into any schools, but it did help with personal research,” Alice says. If you want to keep in touch with college representatives, just make sure the conversation is appropriate and relevant: they aren’t there to listen to the latest drama at school or your weekend plans!
How Far is Too Far?
Although it’s important to “wow” college representatives, the last thing we want to be is annoying. Yes, their job is to help; but even they can get irritated! While college representatives are used to frantic emails from prospective students, make sure that you’ve tried to find the answer on your own first. “Just remember to do your own homework about the admissions process, but we’re always happy to provide information if need be,” advises Kelly.
Not only do you not want to be the anxious email girl, but you also want to be seen as independent. “It’s a nuisance when their parents are too involved or when I have to drag information out of students,” says Karen Sourbis. It’s also important to keep things professional, according to Nick Sourbis: “I don’t like when they try to ‘kiss up’ too much. I have not had this experience but Karen had someone’s father call, way over the top!” The last thing you want to be is burdensome, so just be calm, cool and collected!
Your college application and essay shows the “paper” version of you: your grades, extracurriculars, and awards. Unfortunately, you will never get the chance to wow an entire admissions board in person; however, talking to a representative gives your application personality. So act interested and be yourself: college applications are stressful enough without an identity crisis! If you’re trying to be someone you’re not, the representatives will see right through it. And don’t stress out—you will get through this, you will get into the right college, and you will become a fabulous collegiette!
Alice Chen, Senior at Emory University
Tim Kelly, Assistant Director of Admissions at Boston University
Katherine Mirani, Freshman at Northwestern University
Tarina Quraishi, Sophomore at Harvard University
Karen Sourbis, Representative for the Tufts’ Alumni Recruitment Program
Nick Sourbis, Representative for the Tufts’ Alumni Recruitment Program