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On the Road Again…

On the Road Again…

This week I’ve been on the road traveling to spread the good word about Georgia Tech, or as I say, “Preaching the GT gospel.”

I love this part of my job, even though I don’t get to do it as much as I used to. There are many days when I’m in a meeting with a task force, committee, or commission and people are endlessly using phrases like “at the end of the day” or “synergy.” During those times, I find myself wishing I was waking up to a complimentary hotel breakfast and signing in at a high school to talk to students.

I’ve always thought that high school is one of the most critical times in a person’s life because of the implications it has on where you go, what you do, who you know, and how you ultimately see and experience the world. This is a huge part of why I got into college admission. What can I say? People have to work hard to stay interesting and optimistic as they get older– and most don’t. Conversely, the energy, enthusiasm and hope of teenagers and college students is contagious.

Since lots of college reps are about to come through your doors for visits or college fairs, I wanted to take some time to give you a few tips on how to maximize your time with these counselors.

  1. Do your homework. “What?! School just started and I’m taking 6 APs! You’re telling me I’ve got homework for college admission too?” Yep. Before a college visits your school, check out the programs that interest you about them. What do you want to do outside the classroom? Outdoor recreation, band, etc.? Research these. Then when they ask you what you want to know about, you’ll be ready. (If they’re not asking you that, see Tip 3 below).
  2. Shake their hand and introduce yourself. Pretty basic. You’re not doing this to advantage yourself in the admission process. Most the time they won’t remember your name from your handshake, since they’re also seeing 8 or 20 other students in that session. But it sets you up for questions later in the session and follow up in the future. Remember- this is the college admission PROCESS, and often it starts here.
  3. Interrupt. Yep, I said it. Too many admission counselors basically pull an invisible chain in their back and go into a useless spiel about study abroad, inter-disciplinary curriculum, and statements like “We have 400 clubs and activities. But if we don’t have what you want to do, just grab a friend and a professor and you can start one.” This is when the teacher’s voice from the Charlie Brown starts rattling around in my head. Your job is to throw them off script. They’re only there for 45 minutes. Make it worthwhile. Ask questions like “What are one or two things about your college that only a handful in the nation can also claim?” OR in a different version, “What makes your school unique?” “Why should someone from my city or state pick your school over the many similar in size and culture that are closer, further, less expensive, higher ranked, etc (you insert the appropriate descriptor).”
  4. Stay after or follow up. Sometimes you’ll have to leave immediately following the presentation. If that is the case, send a quick email to the rep thanking them for coming and letting them know if you have plans to visit their campus. Or wait until you apply and then send an email to say, “Hey. I really appreciate you coming to my school in September. Just wanted you to know I am really excited about Charlie Brown U and I have just applied.” (Don’t copy and paste that. I’m far more confident in your writing abilities than mine on this). But if you can stay after, be sure to get your questions in, remind them of your name, and then follow up as described above.
  5. BONUS: These folks are traveling. They’re hitting five schools a day, eating in their car, and trying to follow WAZE while not denting the rental car. Help them out. Give them a tip on a local restaurant for lunch or dinner. Tell them a good place to shop in the area or a park nearby if they want to go for a run. They’re just people. They appreciate that type of stuff. And it breaks both of you out of the normal college admission relationship that too often becomes robotic.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: No one person holds a corner on the market for what a school is really like or really about. You may find the rep hilarious. Doesn’t mean anyone else on that campus is- they may not even be an alum. You may find the rep really cute. That relationship isn’t going anywhere, and it’s definitely not a good way to pick a school. Or, you may find the rep dull and indifferent. Don’t let their personality (or a tour guide’s for that matter) be the reason you rule a school in or out.

Think about it like this: if you are looking at a school of 20,000, it’s basically a small city. Nobody speaks completely for that town. Your job in the process is to get as much info as possible to make a good decision on the best fit school for you. You can start with engaging the representative as we discussed here, but remember, your ultimate goal before you apply or choose any school is to talk to as many people as possible; alumni, current students, professors, and so on.

I hope that you’ll enjoy the college reps that you meet this year. Remember: You can make them better at telling their school’s story if you follow these tips. And ultimately, that is going to help you, your classmates, the other students they visit, as well as them as professionals in the long run too.