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Articles / Applying to College / A Smart Plan B - Part 3 of 3

A Smart Plan B - Part 3 of 3

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Nov. 24, 2015

At the end of Part 2, I wrote, “The first two steps of my eight-part self-marketing plan, discussed above, are the most detailed, so I’ll allow you to absorb their finer points before my final post on a Plan B approach. Next time I’ll discuss timing, intensity, additional recommendations, the marketing mindset, and a consistent focus. That will be plenty more for you to process. See you then.”

I hope you’ve had a chance to absorb the details of those first two steps. They are important. Today, I’ll conclude our Plan B studies by beginning with Point 3 of 8 — timing, which, as they say, is everything. Study up!


3. 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-to-six contacts with your rep, 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. On the average, a brief email or phone contact every two or three weeks ought to do it. Now that you understand the schedule, it’s time to get to work.

4. 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 very likely 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!

5. Scout for an additional recommendation. As you begin to find ways to bump your academics upward, if possible, don’t forget your extracurricular and volunteer activities. These weigh significantly in your college’s eyes. Is there an activity or work area where you might be able to make an additional contribution? I don’t mean go out and start a new club. That will appear as an obvious ploy to the admissions office. I’m talking about existing areas in which you’re involved. If you can do this, you might want to look for a sponsor, a supervisor, or some other lead person who can write you an additional recommendation.

The only caveat here is that this person must know you at least as well as those who wrote your initial recs. If you can find someone like this, ask him or her to mention specifics about your work or performance. As with your other recommendations, anecdotal information is crucial. Once again, the goal is to reveal to the admissions committee more about who you are. A well done extra recommendation like this can sometimes prove to be crucial.

6. Think like a marketer. Think of yourself as a new, unproven product that’s just been released to the public (your first-choice college). You’re an unknown quantity who has to prove him/herself beyond the confines of the official application. Anything that you can do to facilitate this proof will aid your cause. For example, has anything about your academics or EC involvement appeared in your local or school newspaper? If so, get out the scissors. Have you been involved in any academic competitions such as Mathcounts or Odyssey of the Mind? Maybe you’ve been voted MVP on one of your school’s teams.

How about your hobbies? If you’re into photography, maybe you’ve got a page or two of especially stunning shots of your locale that would make a nice mail-in (or better yet, an email-in). Perhaps one of the school organizations you’ve belonged to for years has just completed a highly visible and successful community project. You might be able to get a letter of recommendation from the club’s sponsor or even the mayor or someone on city council (if any of these people know you well). Are you getting the picture here about what it takes to be a marketer? Good.

7. Be persistent in your passion. I’ve talked a lot about passion over the years because it’s an important part of an applicant’s profile. As you execute your self-marketing campaign, be it to clinch admission after deferral or to jump off the wait list into a dorm, don’t forget to show your admissions rep that you are passionate about their college. How do you do this?

Well, you don’t do it by begging to get in. Don’t pander, whatever you do. It makes you look desperate and weak. The positive way to show your passion is to let them know that you know a lot about their school — “your” school — and you’re not afraid to show it. Take the time to investigate the school’s Web site and student newspapers (both official and unsanctioned). There’s a huge amount of information available from these sources. Another source I’ve mentioned before is the students. If they’re available, check out student Web pages and pick a couple of likely candidates for contact. You might even want to ask a student if s/he knows anyone there who was admitted after deferral or from the wait list. If so, ask what that person did to get in. You never know what secrets you might learn. Bottom line: Don’t put your brain to bed. Use it!

All this new information, then, can be worked into your regular contacts with admissions. The overall impression you’re trying to project is that here’s a young man or woman sitting on the fence who is showing one heck of a lot of spirit, energy, and intelligence about getting into this school. You’ll stand out from the crowd because the majority of deferred and wait-listed applicants are content to just sit and wait, which often turns out to be the death knell for their chances. Persist in your passion; press for the payoff.

8. Finally, be humble in victory and defeat. At some point, you will reach the end of your quest. For those who are deferred, the final word will come in late March or early April. For those on the wait list, things are less specific. Sometimes, wait-listers can find out where they stand on the list, if the school ranks its list. You may be able at least to find out how many are on the list. Sometimes it’s many hundreds. Obviously, if you choose to hang in there indefinitely on a wait list, you’re going to have to enroll somewhere else in the meantime, usually by May 1. This can happily lead to the loss of an enrollment deposit if your wait list marketing pays off.

In any event, you’re eventually going to learn your fate. When you do, I suggest that you remember the lesson of the words emblazoned over the entrance to Wimbledon stadium’s famous grass Centre Court. They tell us to treat victory and defeat the same, as the impostors they are.

What does that mean? Well, in the context of college admissions, it all goes back to what I said in Part 1 of this series — that, in general, things tend to work out for the best.

Accordingly, whether you get the fat envelope (or email) or the thin one in April, and whether or not you ever hear from the wait list doesn’t mean that you’re any better or worse than anyone else. Accept it all as good fortune and, if you come up short, don’t pout and go negative, blaming this person or that circumstance — or worse, yourself.

On the other hand, if you do get in, don’t gloat and go around flaunting your good fortune. It might have gone the other way just as easily. Be humble and gracious regardless of the outcome.


In either case, the best days of your life are yet to come. Trust me on that point!


Be sure to see my other college-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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