Applying to college can feel like a full-time job—and college admissions officers can feel like potential employers. Except, instead of an interview lasting for just an hour or so, the “interviewing” process can last months.

“College admissions officers are typically the primary point of contact a high school student will have with a college as an applicant,” says Danilo Umali, a private college planner and founder of Game Theory College Planners. Not only do they provide information about a school to prospective students and parents, they also review applications. “College admissions officers can be valuable allies  for prospective students,” adds Umali.

How you communicate with them may impact your chances of admission. But their role goes beyond whether or not you’ll be accepted. College admissions officers can give you information on potential merit-aid opportunities, introduce you to faculty members, and help you get a fuller perspective on what your college experience will look like. Here are some best practices for maximizing communication between yourself and the colleges you want to attend.

Understand That Every Interaction Counts

Some colleges track “demonstrated interest,” says Umali. This includes every virtual and in-person interaction with the school. It’s a good idea to follow the schools you’re interested in on your social media feeds and to send thank you emails after you’ve toured or interviewed with them. If you’re going to a college fair, stop by the tables of the schools you’re interested in. It’s a good idea to come prepared with a list of questions. These could be about potential majors, extracurriculars, or recent news. Umali recommends setting Google alerts to all the schools you’re interested in so you know what’s going on in the news. For example, you may hear about a search for a new college president, a diversity and inclusion initiative, or a sports championship win. This information can give you springboards for questions and demonstrate your school interest. 

Share Your Contact Information

“I tell students not to put their parents’ phone numbers or email addresses on sign-up lists,” says Umali. “Colleges want to know that you’re interested, not your parents.” This means that you may receive phone calls or texts from admissions officers. Keep in mind that the text you’re receiving from an admissions officer is likely a bot, but the communication will be monitored. In other words, don’t say anything to a bot you wouldn’t say to a human being.

If an admissions officer shares their contact information through a business card, “the mode of communication an admissions officer will use is probably going to be email,” says Umali. Resist the urge to text their cell if you have a question—even if they say reach out any time.

Use the Same Email Address for All College Communications

You’ll likely sign up for various information lists for colleges. And you may want to consider creating an email to use exclusively for college communications so you don’t miss any important messages. Umali recommends Gmail to his students because features like search capabilities can make it easy to keep track of messages. “I also tell my students to use the same handle for all of their digital footprint, and that it includes their first and last name,” says Umali. For example, if your email address is JaneDoe123, Umali suggests making sure your LinkedIn, Instagram, and TikTok handles match this.

Check your email inbox regularly and respond in a timely fashion to emails from admissions officers. Responses don’t have to be long, but ignoring emails from admissions officers can make it seem like you’re uninterested. 

If you speak with an admissions officer at an in-person event, send them a quick email telling them you enjoyed meeting them. Share one or two details about yourself, why you’re interested in the school, and that you’re looking forward to seeing them again. Be sure to include your name and location in the subject line. This makes it easier to sort and file your email.

Consider Creating a LinkedIn® Profile

Umali advises the students he works with to use a LinkedIn account. “This way, you can see which colleges are searching you,” explains Umali. Not only does this give you insight into which colleges are interested in you, but it also gives you the opportunity to make the first move and contact that school—something that will impress admissions officers.

A LinkedIn profile is a good place to keep a résumé of your real-time high school achievements. Consider following the schools you’re interested in on your LinkedIn account, and comment on any interesting articles they share. Umali says that having a public list of colleges you follow could provide incentive for additional colleges to reach out. “Seeing the competition list can make you seem like a competitive candidate,” says Umali.

A LinkedIn profile, coupled with Google alerts, can also help you stand out from the crowd. “I had one high school student I worked with who was interested in Harvey Mudd College,” recalls Umali. Umali recommended that the student set a Google alert to Harvey Mudd. One article the student found was an interview with the school’s new president, talking about women and minorities in STEM fields. “From there, the student found the president’s LinkedIn account and sent her a message about the article, asking if she would mind looking at her LinkedIn profile to see if she might be a good fit. The next day, she got a phone call from the head of admissions,” says Umali.

The key isn’t always reaching out to leaders at the schools you’re interested in—it’s finding the right moment where the school speaks to you, giving you  an opportunity to establish contact. “Don’t reach out artificially. You’ll know the right time. This is how these social media tools are meant to be used,” says Umali.

Be Mindful of Your Social Media Feed

You’ve likely been told to clean up your social media profiles and make them private, but it’s not as simple as that, says Umali. Instead, Umali recommends setting the social media accounts you use to communicate with your friends and family to private and creating additional handles that you can use both to showcase your interest to colleges as well as any unique talents. For example, if you’re an artist, you can create a TikTok or Instagram account with a handle that includes your name through which you can share your work. You can also use this account to like or comment on posts from colleges on your list as one way to demonstrate interest.  Of course, this isn’t a deal breaker, says Umali, but more of a “can’t hurt, might help” behavior that can get you noticed.

“Most colleges have taken a ‘we’ll engage you if you engage us first’ approach to social media but I have seen specific instances where colleges have reached out to students,” says Umali. “And I theorize that this social media monitoring has only become more prevalent since the pandemic.”

That’s why it can be important to regularly check your direct messages folder and react to any comments that a school may post on your account. If they reach out over social media, consider responding to them through email. That way, you can continue the discussion without accidentally sharing a meme you meant for your best friend. 

Be Genuine and Your Authentic Self

A college admissions officer may seem intimidating, but they’re also a person with their own unique interests and insights. If you meet an admissions officer at a college fair, ask them what led them to work at that college or what their favorite on-campus tradition might be. Getting to know them as a person not only minimizes the intimidation factor, but it can make it easier to forge an authentic relationship. 

It’s a good idea to reach out to the admissions officers in your contact list at key moments in your college search: when you’re visiting campus, if you’ve had a recent interview, or when you’ve applied to the college. You might not receive an answer every time, and that’s okay—every communication will likely go into your folder. Umali notes that your admissions folder may be a factor for merit scholarship consideration as well, which is why it can be beneficial to continue to demonstrate your interest.

Remember: a college admissions officer is excited to meet students who are just as excited about the school as they are. They aren’t looking to trip you up—they genuinely want to help determine whether you and the school are a good match. So don’t be shy about reaching out, asking questions, and sharing your enthusiasm—it could very well lead to an acceptance. 

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