Once, during lunchtime in a suburban New York high school cafeteria, a group of fellow college admissions officers and I were used as target practice for a gaggle of teenage boys who decided to see how far they could throw the various pieces of fruit in their lunch bags. I’m fairly confident that my earlobe zested the rind of a large orange that whizzed past my head.
Eventually, the barrage of caloric bullets subsided, and I brushed crushed chips off my Marquette University banner and brochures. This was the kind of horrible lunchtime visit that could make working in admissions depressing. (A note to school counselors: college admissions officers loathe lunchtime visits. The last thing that high school kids want to do during their free time is discuss potential majors and application deadlines with professionally dressed twenty-somethings.)
A string of college fairs and high school visits like that were disheartening. The students didn’t care that we had taken the time to visit their school (and, frankly, many times it seemed like the school counselors didn’t care, either). Things could get pretty lonely on the road.
I’d likely tacked that high school onto a day filled with other visits where I’d met truly interested students who had emailed or called me months earlier. Admissions officers love it when prospective students—not their parents—reach out to learn more about their college. They’ll even visit an out-of-the-way high school in their territory if an eager student has requested that they do so.
Trust me: one fall, I drove more than two hours from my hotel in New York City to a small school in Stonington, Connecticut, to meet a student who had called me the summer prior. His high school only allowed colleges to visit during first hour, so that meant I hit the highway at 5 a.m. just to make it in time. No matter how bleary eyed I was, I enjoyed chatting about Marquette’s liberal arts core curriculum, its commitment to serving the community, and its infectious school spirit. And I discovered that Stonington is a really cute little town, even at the crack of dawn.
The joy of the job came in those interactions. Even though I got off the road six years ago and moved to the other side of the desk as an independent college counselor, I still remember the bright smiles of the East Coast high school juniors and seniors who were authentically interested in the Midwestern Jesuit university that I represented.
There was the young lady with a few blemishes on her transcript and slightly lower ACT scores who met me in a Westchester, New York, hotel lobby where I was holding informational interviews. Her questions about Marquette were well-researched, and I could clearly see that she’d make our Milwaukee, Wisconsin, campus her home if we admitted her. When decision time rolled around, I went to bat for her, and she was admitted. She’s since graduated from Marquette’s College of Communication and she’s working in sports broadcasting.
Today, I tell my clients not to wait to contact the appropriate admissions representatives at the schools on their list. Connecting with these gatekeepers can earn them an advocate in the admissions office, and that can mean the difference between being admitted or wait listed or denied. The application process is a human one, and it’s a two-way relationship. For as much as high school seniors want to be admitted into the schools on their list, admissions officers are hoping that the great kids they’ve met on the road will ultimately choose to call their university home for four years.
With May 1 on the immediate horizon, right now admissions officers across the country are praying and crossing their fingers that their favorite seniors—the ones who took the time to connect with them—send in that fateful deposit.
After May 1, admissions officers shift gears and focus on the next class. During the summer, they’re mapping out their fall travel plans. They consider many factors when comprising their schedule. Which high schools were the most welcoming during the previous season? At which college fairs did the students ask thoughtful questions? Admissions officers remember where they felt appreciated, and they also remember where they didn’t.
Do you think I returned to the New Jersey college fair where students and parents said things like, “Mar-kwette? What’s this school for?” “Wisconsin? Isn’t it cold there? You don’t want to go there,” and “Can I be on the basketball team?” No, I crossed that one off the list. Permanently.
Knowing that their time is finite, admissions officers try as best as they can to make their days on the road fruitful. And they end each night emailing the students with whom they connected during the day.
The year of the infamous cafeteria caper I’d been on the road for 28 days in a row. I’m sure I stayed at almost every Marriott Courtyard along the New Jersey Turnpike. (I did rack up quite a large number of hotel loyalty points, though.) The passenger seat of my rental car was filled with empty coffee cups, pointy-toed flats, and piles of Marquette University brochures. Passersby probably thought I was a car hoarder; I bet I was one empty Dunkin Donuts cup away from getting a concern call from a local police department.
But meeting with high school students who were excited about Marquette made it all worth it.
So, if you’re the parent of a high school junior, now is the time for your student to reach out to the appropriate admissions officers on their college list. Not only will your child help their candidacy, but you’ll make a few admissions officers feel just a little less lonely during their long days on the road.
Christina Craig is an independent college counselor with more than 15 years of experience on both sides of the desk. She spent five years as an admissions officer at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and she has helped more than 300 students find, apply to, and get accepted by colleges that fit them best. She is a 2003 graduate of Columbia University, and she is also a published writer and editor, recently serving as the associate editor of Country Woman and Farm & Ranch Living magazines.
She’s a storyteller, and she’s an expert on the college admissions essays. Her mother was a school counselor for more than 20 years, so Christina’s first college campus visit (that she can remember) was at the age of 11 during a swim meet at Indiana University.
Sh can be found at her website, Christina Craig College Counseling.