Dance With An Admissions Officer: Six Steps to Get You Admitted to College

One of the great myths about college admission is that the process is merely a matter of doing your best in high school, getting good scores on some tests, writing a decent essay, and then simply submitting your application to the admissions office.  Then you just sit back and pray those admissions officers will love you enough to give you the keys to the gate.

Not true.

If you want them to love you, you have to love them back.

Admissions officers are people, too.  They want to be appreciated.  They want to know that you find them attractive.

So you have to dance with them.  Tango, foxtrot, waltz:  it doesn’t matter.  The steps are always the same.

What are the steps?

First, let them know you think they’re attractive. Bat your eyelashes.  Show a little leg.   Sign up to receive their information.  Go to their college websites, and develop an attractive Internet profile.  Register for their web portals, and sign up for their email lists.  An admissions officer will never know that you have your eye on them…unless you show them a sign.  So start the dance by giving them a wink.

Second, fill out their dance cards.  Any time an admissions officer whom you find attractive asks you to fill out a card, do it.  Even if you have filled out the same card for the same person a hundred times, you get credit for every bit of contact you have with that admissions officer.  In today’s high tech world, admissions offices across the land keep careful track of your contacts with their admissions people.  And every contact is a brownie point in the application process.  And who doesn’t need more brownie points?

Third, accept their invitations. If they invite you to meet them someplace—at your school, at a Starbucks when they visit your town, at a college fair—put on your dancing shoes and show up.  Even if you’re not the most attractive dancer in the room, you get major points for just showing up.  Especially if an admissions officer you find attractive visits your school, you cannot afford to forego the opportunity to meet and take another turn around the dance floor—you need those brownie points.  Even if you have to miss your calculus class.  Even if you have to skip volleyball practice.  Even if your feet hurt.  You’ve got to dance if you want that admissions officer to remember your name, to know how much you care, and to know how badly you want the keys to the gate.

Fourth, go visit. Explore what your life might be like if you agree to keep dancing with this college for the next four years.  Nothing—I repeat—nothing will declare your affection as much as a personal visit, where you can dance for a few hours (or better, a day or two) to see whether this college really is everything that admissions officer promised.  When is the best time to visit?  Anytime you can.  It’s nice to go when school is in session, because it gives you a better sense of what your life might be like if you decide to go exclusive with this dance partner.  But you’ll make a suitable impression no matter when you go or how long you stay.

Fifth, meet the in-laws. Talk to the rest of the admissions officer’s family.  The faculty.  The staff.  The coaches.  The gardener, even.  If you were to accept your officer’s hand, you would suddenly find yourself in this new world, populated by lots of new folks—who also might like to dance with you.  So when you do visit, don’t simply spend all your time in the admissions office parlor whispering sweet nothings with the admissions officer.  Even if you can’t connect with the family during your visit, use email, the phone, the web.  You won’t know whether you really want to hook up until you chat with the rest of the clan.

Sixth, spend the night. Really.  Most admissions officers will be happy to let you shack up in a dorm for a night—properly chaperoned by other students, of course.  You might see some of the institution’s dirty laundry (better to get over the shock before you commit), and some of the polish of the glossy brochures your admissions officer plied you with might lose its luster.  But spending the night will give you the opportunity to experience, however briefly, what your life may be like if you agree to go exclusive.

Seventh, send love letters from time to time. Don’t forget to thank your admissions officer for the invitations, and for the dates.  Sprinkle the praise, and your delight in the attention you have been receiving.  Mention the specific characteristics of the college that thrill you the most.  Tell how appreciative you are, and how each minuet brings you closer to saying yes to the eternal embrace that is on offer.Despite the lightness of the metaphor, the admissions dance is an extremely important aspect of the entire process.  Take the time to build a relationship with the admissions officers of the colleges that interest you.  Admissions offices do keep careful track of your calls, emails, visits, interviews—every single point of contact between you and the admissions representative.  Lovestruck, your dance partners from the admissions officers will keep everything you send and guard it as precious evidence of your passion.

Think about it.  Whom would you be more likely to give the keys to your heart?  Someone who simply sends you a typed application, listing all their credentials, their qualifications, their hopes and dreams for a beautiful life together?  Someone who sits back, passively waiting for you to choose him or her from among the thousands of others who have also submitted applications?  Or someone who not only completes the application, but meets you whenever you call, who agrees to visit you on your turf, who sends you letters full of affection and praise for your best characteristics, who agrees to spend the night with you?

Colleges want to accept students who express their strong interest and enthusiasm for their institutions.

So get out your dancing shoes, and don’t be afraid to dance.  It may lead to something extraordinary.

Mark Montgomery
College Counselor and Dance Instructor

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Published by Mark Montgomery

Mark is a leading educational consultant. His experience as a professor, college administrator, and youth mentor help him guide students from around the country and around the world.

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  1. Not to dismiss your advice here, but I’d like to add that all of these points do not apply to every institution.

    I’m an admissions counselor, and we do not grant points toward admissions when a student makes contact with us. And in fact, this advice has become a problem for us as more students seek to make one-on-one appointments with us, not realizing that it doesn’t gain them anything but a conversation. Everything we have to say to most students is contained within our regular visit session.

    With us and most other colleges facing the same problem, just ask. We can tell you right away that contact with us doesn’t get you “points.” Though you can probably figure it out for yourself, to some extent: we’re a large public institution, and I would suspect many others in our category are in the same boat.

  2. Anne,
    Thanks for visiting my blog and providing your perspective. It’s very helpful.

    I suppose two words of clarification are due. First, I would never advocate that students make nuisances of themselves. I know some over-zealous kids can be so in-you-face that they end up turning off their potential dance partners. I find a lot of my clients are the opposite, however: they need encouragement to connect with college admissions officers. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of visiting a high school–and not one kid shows up.

    Second, public and private institutions are different in their attitudes toward the dance. Certainly in Colorado, it is nearly impossible to find a person to contact in the admissions offices at University of Colorado and Colorado State University.

    But just down the road at Colorado College, admissions officers there have made it clear to me and my in-school colleagues that a Colorado high school student has next to no chance of admission unless they make a visit and (preferably) schedule an interview. And most of admissions officers at private colleges value the visit and the contacts very, very much in deciding whom to admit and whom to reject.

    I could also say that the most selective colleges in the land are less likely to want to dance with you very much: they have so many suitors, that one more really titillate them all that much.

    So, students: know your dance partner! As Anne suggests, you can do no harm to ask whether your partner wants to be wooed. Usually they do.

  3. I would also add from fairly recent experience that admissions officers, particularly with private universities (i.e., those who really want your money), will also be doing their dances with you. If you express an interest, they’ll probably respond. However, don’t be misled to think their response is anything more than marketing. They probably don’t really know anything about you that really matters and won’t look at your admissions packet or be able to compare it to the pool of applicants, no matter how early you submit it, until shortly before time to make a decision. If you’re putting on a really good “first impression,” it’s only natural they’ll be even more positive. That does not mean you’re in. You’re just being strung along to give the college the biggest and best pool of applicants from which to accept and reject students.

    Regardless of anything else, you’ve got to have the grades, test scores, and extra-curricular/leadership records from highschool to be realistically in consideration by the particular school’s admissions office. If you don’t and it’s early enough in your highschool career, consider another highschool where you can stand out. It frankly does little good to go to a very demanding highschool, struggle, have poor grades and no extra-curricular life to show at the end. It is the rare situation in which a college will care enough or know enough about where one went to highschool to value the distinction between a 2.7 from super-hard prep and a 4.0 from regular decent public HS. With similar test scores, they’ll take the 4.0 public school kid every time. The other alternative is to look at other colleges and recognize that a 2.7, even with pretty stellar SATs isn’t going to get you into Johns Hopkins or Stanford. Not that it’s impossible–you might be that good a dancer and have other valuable, marketable attributes–but it’s extremely unlikely, so don’t get your hopes up, when your stats don’t merit it, even if it seems like the dance with the admissions officer is going beautifully.

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