So you’ve done the research, narrowed your list, and come out with one—or two, or three—top schools. These are your dream schools, or at least the ones you want to attend the most. The ones where you can envision yourself walking across campus, wind in your hair, smile on your face, synapses strengthening with every class, friends multiplying the moment you step foot onto the green manicured grass of the academic quad. This is where you want to go to college. Case closed.
Now your job is to ensure that these colleges know they’re your top choices. There are a number of ways to do this, but they all boil down to “expressing interest.” That is, you want to a) demonstrate exactly what it is about each college that appeals to you, b) indicate why you think you’ll be an asset to that college (i.e., why should they admit you?), and c) create a track record of actions that show you’ve engaged with the school.
The following list offers 8 ways that you can demonstrate interest in a school and let them know that they are your top choice. However, before you get started, take note of an item that is not on this list: bombarding admissions officers with questions. Admissions officers are busy people, and they’re dealing with a lot of interested students—not just you. So be respectful of their time, and do your best to research answers to your questions via other routes (the internet, contacting alumni, talking to a rep at a college fair, a campus visit) before emailing or calling an admissions officer.
Now, without further ado, here are 8 ways you can show a college they’re your top pick:
1. Essays. If you’re using the Common App, you will find that schools have supplemental essays where you are expected to be specific about why you’re choosing to apply to that college. No matter the prompt, you should always keep in the back of your mind: Why is the school a good fit for you and you for it? Here are a few ideas to help you come up with an answer: Does your family have a legacy with the school? Is there a specific professor who you’re keen to work with? Is there something unique about the curriculum that other colleges don’t offer?
2. Campus Visit. Not only do most colleges track campus visits as indicators of interest, but a visit will also help you learn even more about the school—information that you can put to good use in your essays and admissions interviews!
3. Admissions Interview. Even if the interview is optional, you should do it. Your willingness demonstrates that you’re serious about attending this college, and in the interview, you can be candid about what drew you to that college and how you became convinced that it would be a good fit. (And don’t forget to add in why you would be a good fit for the college. Sell yourself!)
4. College Fairs. College fairs are the easier, cheaper version of the campus visit. Research local college fairs and if your school of interest will be there, stop by their booth and talk to the representative. Be sure to leave your contact information (either by filling out a card, using a barcode gotocollegefairs.com, or leaving a resume), even if you’re already receiving information from that college—because this is your track record to show you’ve expressed interest!
5. Send Thank-You Notes. It might sound old-fashioned, but thank-you notes are a definite way to stand out. Send them to a rep you met at a college fair, to an admissions officer who interviewed you, to a professor or student or anyone else who helped answer a question you had. This little note will keep you front-of-mind and reflects well on you as a thoughtful, appreciative person. Plus, even for those non-college-admissions officers, you never know who might be asked to weigh in on the admissions decision!
6. Connect on Social Media. Nearly every college these days has a Facebook or Twitter or Instagram account, so connect on your platform of choice and comment or ask questions to show you’re engaged in what’s happening at the school. You might even learn something you weren’t expecting!
7. Request Information. Don’t assume that you’ll wind up on a college’s mailing list simply because you’re a living, breathing high school student. And don’t rely solely on their website, either, because no matter how many times you visit, the college will have no track record of your interest! Send a polite email or sign up online to receive printed brochures and emails from the school.
8. Apply Early Decision/Action. Applying early decision tells a school that they are your absolute number one top pick. (You can only apply to one school early decision, and if you are accepted, the decision is binding.) However, if you are having trouble choosing between several top schools, then early action shows that you are interested enough to get your application submitted early in the admissions cycle, but, if you are admitted, the decision does not bind you to one school.