Applying to college is more than making campus visits, filling out applications, demonstrating interest, and scoring good grades and standardized test scores. It is learning to present a total picture that appeals to the admissions office, convincing them your student is a perfect fit, who can enhance the college’s community. This means doing your homework and knowing what each college values.
Once you and your student have finalized the list of colleges to which your student will apply, take time to research what each college will value.
Research the following:
- The college’s mission statement and vision.
- The things for which the college is known (for instance, is the college known as being particularly academic – as in Swarthmore – is the college uber-liberal – as in Wesleyan).
- Read the descriptions of the college in the Yale Insider’s Guide and/or the Fiske Guide, both of which use currently enrolled student feedback and reviews.
- Check with your guidance office’s scattergrams to see where your student falls on the scale of acceptance for the past few years.
- Programs the college highlights in its literature.
Once you have a summary of this information, determine in what ways your student clearly represents what the college values, whether it be through their marketing or through what current students indicate in their reviews. What is the campus culture? Where does the college see itself going in the next ten years? What values have been consistent in the college’s mission.
You should now be able to see how your student matches each college’s profile. The next step is to make sure that all aspects of your student’s communication with the college reflect this profile. Whether it be an email to an admissions representative, a thank you note for an interview, an inquiry to a professor, or a chat with an alum at a college information session, your student should have their targeted profile in mind and articulate it in some way.
Think of this as crafting a creative elevator speech. Be sure this pitch, though, is creative and not a simple list of accomplishments as seen on a resume. It should be a highlight of how your student is unique, yet a good fit for the college, and should be adaptable to individual situations, so as not to sound memorized and robotic. By choosing four or five specific characteristics that are effective to share, your student can build a short speech around which aspects seem most appropriate in the moment.
For instance, a college may state in its mission that it “is dedicated to educating students to learn, lead and serve in a diverse and changing world” (Loyola U of MD). With this in mind, your student should be able to articulate how they have learned, led, and served in a way that supports a diverse and changing world. Highlighting an experience in working with a homeless shelter, where your student created a new program and recruited other students to volunteer, would indicate a desire to live the mission of this college.
This experience would be easy enough to share in an interview, but it can also be easily inserted in an email:
Dear Professor Smith,
I am interested in studying political science and government, and I would like to hear more about how I can prepare myself to work in urban renewal. Are there specific courses that would enhance my understanding of city government? My interest stems from my work with an urban homeless shelter where I established a program…
By sharing anecdotes associated with the college’s mission, your student will indicate why they are a good match for the college. All colleges are looking for students who will support their vision of who they are, both as enrolled students and as future alums.