Will My “Under-the-Radar” Campus Visit Hurt Admission Chances?

Question: I’m a high school junior. Last week I visited a college, which is about an hour from home and which may be my first choice. I stayed in the dorm with a family acquaintance. She is a junior majoring in economics, which is a possible major for me, too. She took me on a tour, introduced me to a couple econ profs, let me sit in on her classes, and basically gave me a close look at her school that I wouldn’t get from a more typical campus visit. But yesterday when I was telling a friend about this great experience, he said that, if the admission office doesn’t know that I was on campus, it would work against me because there would be no record of my visit in my application folder so it would look as if I wasn’t all that interested. Is this true? Do I need to tell the admission office that I really was there?

Your friend is right. Colleges–particularly the ones that favor the “holistic” admission process (i.e., using factors besides grades, test scores, and other stats)–do tend to track prospective-student contact, and so admission folks may wonder about your commitment to their school if they see no record of your trip to campus or your presence at other prospective-student events (e.g., info sessions at your school or in your community).

Several years ago, in fact, when the term “demonstrating interest” starting popping up regularly in articles about boosting admission odds, in college-admission how-to books, and on CC and other Web sites, suddenly admission officials were inundated with letters, emails, and phone calls from high school students hoping to get extra “points” for touting their enthusiasm. (Many of the admission folks starting rolling their eyes.)

But, even so, there are plenty of students out there–like you–whose enthusiasm is genuine but who haven’t shown it in any on-the-record way. So, indeed, your flying-under-the-radar approach might work against you, as your friend suggested. I remember reading a article recently about admissions rejections. One dean at a liberal arts college claimed that a borderline candidate (who was ultimately turned away) lived not far from this college and yet hadn’t visited. The dean questioned her interest in the school. As I read the article, I had to wonder if this young woman might have actually visited but left no paper trail. Since she lived nearby, she very possibly had friends enrolled there who may have hosted her but didn’t include a stop in the admission office on the visit agenda.

Thus, I do urge you to tell the admission staff at this college about your time on their campus. If there is a “Why This College?” question on the application, then that will be a perfect place to describe the particulars of your visit and how it helped to influence your choice. (Recounting of a personal experience on campus is often a good subject for the insidious “Why This College?” question, even for those who have had additional admission-office contact.) If such a question is not on the application, then you can include a supplementary letter about your trip or use the “Additional Information” section (which you’ll find on the Common Application and many others) to describe the positive impact of your overnight stay.

In addition, if this college offers interviews, it would be wise of you to schedule one–ideally, back on campus; otherwise with an alumnus in your home town, if available. An interview is not only a good way to “demonstrate interest,” but also would give you a chance to show off your excitement about this particular school and to ask any questions which may remain even after spending time there.

While it may seem annoying that the college process requires you to “demonstrate interest” by pointing out that you actually did visit campus, rest assured that this is not the last admissions-process annoyance that you will encounter. 😉