First Impressions

True or false:

  1. You are a complete stranger to a college until you click the “send” button on your application.

  2. The only thing a college will know about you is what is contained in your application.

I won’t keep you in suspense.  The answer is:


College admissions doesn’t have to be a blind date!  Your relationship can start as soon as you decide you might be interested. And colleges have ways of finding out with you too.  So if you have your heart set on a school, don’t wait until clicking the send button to make an impression!  In this post, I’ll talk about ways to make connections that can help you get information you need to decide if a school is right for you and improve your chances for admission and scholarships.

1.  Get Connected

There are a lot of ways to show that you are interested in a school and you can and should get started as soon as you are, well, interested. The most common way to show interest is to request more information.  You can do this by going to a school’s admissions page and click on the “request more information link.”  Once you sign up you’ll get all kinds of brochures and admissions materials.

You can also show interest and learn about schools through social media.  You can like a school’s Facebook page.  You can follow a college on Twitter.  You can even follow the college’s admissions office on Twitter.  In my opinion, the information you get about a school from social media is a little more spontaneous and revealing than what you get from admissions office brochures.  Schools often use social media to post important stuff, like application period deadlines and extensions, upcoming events and the like.

So why should you get connected right away?  Because it can help you in the admissions process.  One factor many schools take into account in deciding who to admit is demonstrated interest.  In addition to your grades, essays, and recommendations, many schools take into account how interested you are in THEM. It sounds weird but it makes sense. Schools want to extend offers to people who will say yes.  So if you ARE interested you should make sure you show it.

And the earlier you show you are interested the more convincing you will be when you say


So do it soon!  The earlier the school knows about your interest the more interested you seem.

But —

When you connect with a college, via email or on social media, you want to make sure that you convey an appropriate impression.  Make sure your email address sounds professional, and use an appropriate businesslike tone when you write (have someone proofread for you if you have questions).  As for social media, it’s not clear how many colleges actually check out applicants’ social media, but some do, so don’t take the chance with any thing inappropriate.   Sorry, the thing about social media is that it’s easily accessible and lasting so it’s not the best place to experiment with your self-image.  Showing that you know that demonstrates the kind of clear thinking colleges are looking for.  Showing that you don’t, well...

2.  Get to know your college admissions representative

Have you seen the movie Admissions with Tina Fey?  She plays an admissions officer at a prestigious college. Most colleges have a number of admissions officers, and each one is assigned different states or regions or countries. On the school website you can find a page  in the admissions section introducing the reps and listing the states or regions where they are assigned.  This means is that, for each college that interests you, there is a representative assigned to your state who serves as your contact person through the admissions process. You should get to know your admissions reps. You might meet them when they that travel to your school for a visit. You might meet them at college fairs or on campus visits.  But the important thing is that you should meet them!  Send an email if you must!  Ask a question about a major that interests you, or tell them you are very interested in their school and want to know if they are coming to your area for a fair or visit. They will be happy to hear from you!  They like knowing about students in their assigned areas who are interested in applying.

So why should you meet the admissions rep?  Because that person will be an important part of the admissions decision.  The way most schools handle applications is by having one or two people on the admissions staff read each applications. Those reps make the initial cut or send the application to committee. Your admissions rep is likely to be one of those important gatekeepers and is also likely to be the one who speaks for you if your application is presented to whole committee.  Here’s a video showing the process at Brandeis, a college outside of Boston.  Your admissions rep’s job can be stressful

So make it easier by providing good information and expressing interest!

3.   Go on a visit, go to a fair

One very good way to interface with colleges is by visiting.  That’s of course a great way to learn about schools. (Here’s a very good article about how to learn the most from your visit.)  But the schools get some information about you too.  They know you care enough to visit.  You may also have an opportunity for an interview, or to explore departments that interest you (which will make it easier for you to make an impression when you write your “why us” essay). This article describes the things you can do to make a good impression on a visit. It’s hard to make a bad impression on your tour, but remember to be polite, show appreciation and let the student do the talking.  And if you sign in for an information session, don’t leave in the middle. The school will notice.

So what if you can’t visit before you apply? It’s not the end of the world. Here are ways to get to know a school when you can’t visit. And if you are low income, you may be able to get the school for you to pay for a visit.  Here is a list of schools that offer “fly-in” programs for low income, first generation and/or under-represented students.  If you’d like help applying, talk to your counselor or send us an email.

If you can’t make it to a visit, you may be able to connect with college representatives at a college fair or a visit by the college representative to your school or community.  For students on the Palouse, some college fair options are the Colleges that Change Lives Fairs that happen over the summer in Portland and Seattle; the Explore College Options Fair featuring reps from Harvard, Duke, UPENN, Georgetown and Stanford in September in Spokane; the National Association of College Admissions Counselors regional fair in Spokane in October, the Moscow High School College Night in October and the Palouse Pathways Honors College Fair in December.  Palouse Pathways also hosts college admissions representatives on occasion; sign up for our newsletter to learn more.  And if a representative comes to your school, PLEASE take the time to show them some love.  Remember the admissions representative visiting is the one who will most likely be shepherding your application through the admissions process. They’ve probably driven a long way to see you.  And the students in the class behind you would probably like them to come again next year.

So reach out!  And remember: