Okay, so what’s this great self-marketing plan? Briefly, it’s all about finding a key contact at the school that has deferred or waitlisted you and feeding that person carefully planned information about your accomplishments and passion for that school.
#1 – Find out the name of the person who has authority over your application. In most cases, this will be the regional admissions representative for your area of the country. You can find out who s/he is in several ways. Start searching immediately. Don’t put this off. First, you can check the school’s Web site. Most colleges have a separate page or segment of their site devoted to undergraduate admissions. In some cases, depending on the size of the school, they may have the admission officers’ names, their geographic assignment, and (if you’re really lucky) their email address.
If this information isn’t available on the school’s Web site, then you’ll have to call the admissions office. Don’t chicken out here. You’ve got to remember that you get one shot at the process and this is your chance. By the way, don’t have (or let) mom or dad do the talking here. Why? Well, right off the top, if an admissions officer ends up speaking with one of your parents, s/he’ll immediately think that you don’t have the commitment or maturity to handle this important task for yourself and may even question your true motivations about attending that particular school. Make these calls yourself.
When you finally make phone contact, briefly explain who you are and what your situation is: “Hello, this is Julie Smith calling. I was deferred [or waitlisted] and I would like to know the name of the admissions representative in charge of my application.” Say it something like that. The receptionist will then probably ask you where you live and quickly tell you the name of your representative. S/he may also ask you if you would like to speak with that person. That’s great, if you’re prepared to say something intelligent. If you’re just calling for a name, politely decline and end your call. If you’re ready to begin stating your case, though, then go for it.
Most times, however, the receptionist will just give you the name of your rep without offering to connect you. Remember, there are probably lots of other deferred or waitlisted applicants vying for their rep’s attention too. Admissions offices are extremely busy places after decision letters go out. When you get the name of your rep, also ask politely for his or her email address (assuming that it’s not on the school’s Web site, as mentioned above).
Of course, there’s always a slim chance that the receptionist will not cooperate in giving you your rep’s name. This is unlikely, but if it happens, just ask her for the name (and email address) of the person to whom you may direct correspondence concerning your situation. That will get you somewhere. Bottom line: Your goal is to identify a human being inside the admissions office with whom you can correspond.
#2-Write a letter. Direct this letter to the aforementioned representative. In it, present all significant accomplishments and new activities since your application was submitted. Granted, you probably haven’t published a novel or cured cancer in the past few months, but “Raising my ailing calculus grade to an A-” would certainly count as an achievement. So would “Teaching myself the fundamentals of classical guitar.” If you’ve won any awards or been elected to any offices, these would be high on the list. Your letter should also stress how much you want to attend this college and, especially, why it is a great fit for you. Avoid generic reasons (“From the moment I stepped on the lovely campus, it felt like home”) and, instead, highlight specifics (“The opportunity you offer to major in Human Resources at a small, single-sex school is exactly what I’m seeking and is almost unique.”) If you will definitely matriculate if admitted, be sure to say so clearly. (This is especially critical for waitlisted candidates because colleges hate to waste time admitting students from the waitlist who ultimately don’t enroll.)
#3 – Encourage Guidance Counselor Follow Up. Now that you’ve made contact with your rep yourself, you should politely ask your school counselor to do the same … by telephone. Sometimes it can work in your favor if the admission folks see that your school is really behind you. Ideally, your counselor can provide the college with new information that wasn’t on the initial application or added insight into your personal strengths. (“Julie probably mentioned that she is on the headmaster seach committee but she doesn’t know that she was the only student in this select group who was a unanimous choice.”) During the call, your counselor may receive some reason(s) for your deferral or waitlisting, which your counselor will share with you (“We were concerned about those dips in the math and science grades”) but steel yourself for a more generic response like, “It was an extremely competitive year …” Occasionally, reps may comment on the “degree” of deferral. That is, s/he might say something like, “Julie was a high (or strong) deferral,” or some similar comment.
Side note: It’s conceivable that you could be deferred in December and then waitlisted in April, a kind of exquisite, special torture that I wish on none of you. However, if this does happen, the self-marketing process described here will work for you nonetheless.
#4 – Schedule your contacts and updates. Now that you have the ball rolling, get ready to keep it rolling. If you’ve been deferred, you’re going to have about three months (give or take) to deploy your self-marketing plan. Let’s say you have 12 weeks. You’ll want to make about three contacts with your rep (including guidance counselor calls), depending on how much update news you can generate. Keep in mind that you don’t want your rep to feel that you’re a pest. If you have something to say, then say it. However, don’t just talk to hear yourself talk, or type so that you can send your rep some words.
#5 – Turn up the academic heat. This is mainly for those who have been deferred. You may be thinking, “What else can I do? I’m already doing the best I can.” You probably are. However, recall that you submitted your application in early November and you learned of your deferral in mid-December. There’s an early-February mid-year report waiting to go in on you that will report on your academic progress for the first half of the school year. Obviously, you want to show some positive improvement, if that’s possible.
This would also be an excellent time for you to consider entering or completing any competitions that involve your “specialties,” be they forensics, writing, poetry, speech, moot court, or whatever. Your goal is to position yourself as a strong finisher, someone who has not yet realized his or her full potential. Since you’re a quality, talented student, you probably have some reserves that have thus far been untapped. Now is the time to call them into play. Hold back nothing. You get one shot, and this is your shot.