School visits, e-mail help students gain college edge

For Medill freshman Kate Ward, eight is a lucky number.

So when Ward started the college application process in the fall of 2002, she applied to eight schools. The luck, she hoped, would help get her into Northwestern, her first choice.

But she took other steps to increase her chances of admission, too.

“I went to the info session three times in all,” Ward said. “They were the same every time, but I just went to write my name down on the card and say I was there.”

Ward was one of many college-bound students who realized the power of showing interest in a school to tip chances of admission in their favor. According to a survey released Wednesday by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, these actions may improve odds of getting in.

The survey, which identifies “demonstrated interest” in a specific school among the components that determine admission, found a third of the 595 colleges questioned take such interest into consideration.

“Clearly, this is a factor in admission,” said David Hawkins, director of public policy at NACAC. “It’s not the most important, but it’s clearly a tip factor.”

“Demonstrated interest” ranked in the middle of the list of “tip factors,” which determine admission when more important elements, such as grades and test scores, are close among students, according to Hawkins. He said he expected “demonstrated interest” to appear at the bottom of the list, because it’s new to this year’s survey. New categories frequently are ranked lower than older categories, he said.

But several students and admissions strategists said they recognized the interest factor’s importance before this year’s survey was released. To show a school they’re interested, prospective students often take campus tours, attend summer programs and establish contact with admissions officials via e-mail.

Isaac Brown, a Weinberg freshman, e-mailed the head of NU’s German department last year with a question. He said he doesn’t deny that part of his motive was to show interest in the school and introduce himself.

“Obviously, it’s B.S. because it gives you an edge on someone else,” Brown said. “But you almost have to do it.”

Some college coaches and admissions officials said they agree.

“In the last three to five years, it’s gotten more important to make yourself unique or stand out,” said Jan Rooker, an educational consultant from New Canaan, Conn. “There aren’t that many ways to do it anymore.”

Rooker said she encourages students to make contact with admissions officials because networking should be promoted at a younger age.

“Once you hit the business world, all you hear is ‘network, network, network,'” she said. “A kid who is e-mailing an admissions official is demonstrating social skills.”

Keith Todd, director of undergraduate admission at NU, said the school’s admissions officers are glad to answer questions, but he discourages prospective students from e-mailing an official solely for the purpose of making contact.

“Then we get into a situation of 15,000 applicants sending e-mails, and that’s not very helpful to anyone,” Todd said.

Instead, Todd said, a student can show interest by visiting the campus, submitting a strong application and interviewing with NU alumni.

High school senior Amanda Palleschi, who will enter Medill in the fall, said she tried to show interest through her essay about why she wanted to attend NU.

“I have this ‘I-will-not-suck-up’ complex,” she said.

Despite some admission officers’ qualms with personal e-mails, some students said they don’t see a problem with making contacts.

Ward said she was one step away from e-mailing, but stopped herself in the end.

“They stress to somehow make yourself an individual,” Ward said. “If there’s one extra way of doing it, then why not?”