posted by: Lisa Cynamon Mayers, senior admissions consultant
former admission counselor: Washington University in St. Louis, Case Western Reserve University
I can still rattle off the names of my favorite applicants to Washington University where I worked as an admission counselor for three years. Even those students who ultimately decided to attend another college are still marked in my memory. I can recall how we first met-- on campus, at their high schools, in a group meeting-- and I remember with fondness these amazing young people standing at the brink of this great transition. In the midst of application madness, high schoolers and their parents often forget that admission counselors are human-- sensitive, extroverted, friendly, personable folks with feelings. At a deep level admission counselors are sensitive to the rollercoaster of emotions felt by applicants and their families. We are aware of the maelstrom of feelings that the process precipitates. At a large number of colleges, dare I say the majority, applications are individually read, i.e. by a human, not a computer, and decisions are made in a sensitive, sometimes gut-wrenching way. For this reason, particularly at the most selective schools in the country, it can be advantageous for prospective students to develop a relationship, a connection, with an admission point person.
Many colleges and universities divide their admission staff and the world into territories. An admission counselor is responsible for a given region which would include travel, application reading, and territory management. Imagine this, suddenly you’ve switched roles, you are no longer a high school student; you are an admission counselor. Your responsibility is to read thousands of applications from qualified students-- the majority of whom are prepared for your college-- and make admission decisions on these students. Given a group of students with comparable grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities, who would you admit: the student who made a favorable impression on you and interacted with you during the process, or the student you’ve never met who you can’t gauge level of interest or other personal qualities? Ding ding ding. Obviously the right answer is the student who has made a personal connection.
So how do you make this personal connection? The greatest impressions that students made on me happened naturally during an information session, high school visit, college fair, or interview. Some of you might not have direct access to an admission counselor. There may not be visits scheduled in your area and you may not have been able to visit every campus. Not to worry. You can still demonstrate interest and establish a personal connection with an admission counselor through e-mail and the telephone. It is key to demonstrate your interest in the college and also convey to the admission counselor your unique qualities and personality. At the end of the day you want every interaction you have with the colleges on your short list to be meaningful and to make a positive impression.