Seven Slamdunk Questions for Admissions Officers

You know that feeling you have when a grown-up calls you by your full first, last and middle name? That stomach-flipping “uh-oh” you get as you’re summoned to the front of a laughing classroom, the scene of your dad’s dented fender or any other physical area where your latest lapse in judgment can most visibly be put on display? As many of my students prepare to apply to college, that is precisely the feeling they get when I tell them, “You should talk to an admissions officer.”

Admissions officers get such a bum rap! Everyone cries or cheers with joy when they meet Oprah, but when an admissions rep travels to meet prospectives, they might as well wear a black helmet and breathe “Luke, I’m your father.” I know you think they’re the evil gatekeepers, making sure that only 10% of kids even get into most colleges, but that’s not true at all! Here’s the FACT: most U.S. colleges accept most kids who apply. Not even 30 out of nearly 1600 are at a 10% or lower admit rate). But colleges can’t accept you…if you don’t apply.

Remember, no two campuses are exactly alike. If you want to know how a campus you’re considering handles the application process, the smartest move you can make is to talk directly to admissions. Just go to their CLIC page and click through to the Freshman Admissions page so you can read everything they want everyone to know. Then, when you can, set up some time to meet with the real thing – and trust they are just as excited to reach out to applicants are you are to learn more about your dream school.

So how do you meet admissions officers?

Campus Visits. Heard this somewhere before? You’ve got to get to at least four distinct college campuses before you apply during senior year! The first step you’ll take is contacting the admissions office. Talk to someone then if they are available, or schedule a brief face-to-face while you’re on campus.

College Fairs, Traveling Presentations and Career Center Visits.
If you’re interested in any campus, be sure to subscribe to their college on The CLIC so their events fill your calendar. Let your counselor and career center director know that you are four-year college-bound so they alert you of upcoming visits. If the colleges you crave aren’t scheduled to come to your school, ask your counselor or career center director to reach out to the admissions office. Even if they can’t come to your school, they may be coming somewhere near you, or many will send volunteer alumni to talk to students.

Personal Outreach. While you’re on their Web site, you usually can sign up for their outreach list. And you absolutely can email or call directly to set up a time to talk. It will only take about ten minutes.

Not sure what to ask once you’ve finally got an admissions rep’s attention? Here are seven insider questions to help you understand their admissions process and life on the other side of an acceptance letter.

  1. Applicant pool. What pool of applicants will I be considered with – only students from my high school, my district, my region or all applicants as a whole? This will help you understand how competitive you are.
  2. Supplemental application items. Do you welcome or even accept additional items with my application (e.g., extra recommendation letters, talent portfolios, low-fat/gluten-free cookies, hilarious personal videos, etc.)? This could save you a lot of time – that you now can spend on finding more colleges or scholarships!
  3. Counselor updates. Is it all right for my counselor to contact you with updates regarding my academic progress, special circumstances or other issues as you evaluate my application? Many colleges welcome ongoing interaction with high school counselors to stay current on an applicant after your application arrives.
  4. Diversity outreach. What are some of the areas of diversity you prioritize for outreach (e.g., regional, ethnic, gender, sexuality, economic, etc.), and how do you reach those prospective applicants? This is great for learning about what kind of student body you’ll be engaged with – and for finding out how you can get on their outreach radar in your region.
  5. Wait-list policy. Are wait-list admissions need-blind, or will an applicant’s ability to pay improve their chances of moving up the list? This might be a later call if you get waitlisted, but it’s the hard reality at some colleges once financial aid runs out. Remember to turn in that FAFSA extremely early!
  6. Memorable essays. What are some of the essays that you still remember, and why did they stick with you? Everyone is going to want you to “write in your own voice,” but you’ll get sparks of inspiration from hearing how other students turned their personal stories into admissions office favorites.
  7. Student strengths. What are two qualities you consistently see in successful students at your college? This is beyond “academic discipline” and “personal initiative,” which are traits of most successful college students. College campuses tend to have their own distinct fingerprint, traits many students share that create a certain campus energy. As an example, “You can make a difference” is the unspoken motto of Stanford students, and the institution has put many mechanisms in place so all of those world-changers can actually start making their impact as undergrads.

Chatting with an admissions officer before you apply offers more than a very useful inside scoop on how to navigate that college’s application process. It will show you how enthusiastic the admissions team is about finding next year’s freshmen class – and may add one more motivating cheerleader to your personal “Go to college!” squad. So check out your CLIC matches, surf the site to subscribe to more colleges, and start chatting up those admissions reps. See you inside!

Ready to plan for college?  Join The CLIC today.

As always, share your own recommendations and experiences below!

DMA is the CEO of The CLIC, the revolutionary new site where students can powerfully plan for college and institutions can effortlessly recruit students from a single home page in our FREE interactive network. CLIC students can connect to college matches, scholarship searches, college access programs and the nation’s first master calendar of all college-related deadlines and events, with streaming video tips and much more, at