In my last article, I shared how to strategize your application process for maximum success. I also discussed an optional approach -- a Plan B -- for high school seniors who will be getting less-than-exciting news in December from their early decision (ED) and early action (EA) applications. I want to continue that here in the second part of my discussion about strategizing your college process. So, let's now consider those who will be writing recommendations for you.
A key part of your Plan B strategy is to brief your recommenders about your application plans. Since you won't be finding out about your early application(s) until mid-December, that leaves only a couple of weeks until most of your other applications' Regular Decision (RD) deadlines occur, usually on the first of January.
Notice anything else about those two weeks? Yep, they're sitting there right in the middle of your winter break. It's also going to be your teachers' winter break too. They're not going to appreciate having to generate additional recommendations for you during break if you come running to them after your deferral letter arrives on Dec. 15.
That's why you should let everyone -- your teachers, your counselor, your summer-job supervisor, or whomever -- know what to expect. Brief them on your Plan B. Chances are, most of them will have their letters in a computer file, and they can just change the date and submit a new copy. However, there is the possibility of danger here too.
Just as you can commit application suicide by not being careful in changing college names as you adapt your essays and short statements, so too can your recommenders damage your application's impact. Just to play it safe, ask your letter writers if they have mentioned the college's name anywhere in their letter. If so, ask them (nicely) to be sure that they get the right letter in the right envelope, if your Plan B is called into action. This is a relatively small point, but one that needs to be tended.
Mid-December Is A Key Time Period
Have your RD applications on deck and ready to go by mid-December. Now, back to those two weeks in the second half of December. Do you really want to spend your winter break scrambling to complete the remainder of your Plan B applications? You do? Okay, that's fine, but don't grit your teeth when your friends ask you to go skiing with them for a few days and you can't because you “have to write all these supplemental essays."
If you would really rather go skiing, or whatever, have those others apps ready to roll before you get the not-so-good news from your early school(s). Obviously, if you're accepted ED, or get into one or more of your EA schools, that's all the good news you need. You can then enroll and finally, after all this time, exhale and scrap your Plan-B applications. On the other hand, if you get the dreaded deferral or, worst case, get denied, you're going to be disappointed (at least) but you won't be defeated and have to generate new, exciting and enthusiastic applications while laboring under a cloud of negativism. Your heads-up Plan-B planning will have taken care of all that.
You may also want to explore additional schools even if you get good early news from an EA school. Those ready-to-go RD apps will then really pay off.
Understand Deferrals, Waitlists
Being deferred is like holding your breath for more than three months. Ending up on a wait list is like purgatory. Nevertheless, you do have some active marketing options available to you, which I'll explain in a moment. These can accomplish two things. First, this structured approach to promoting yourself and your position will help time seem to pass more quickly. In the case of deferrals, you'll be waiting up to three-and-a-half months (up to 15 weeks) to find out your fate. If you're just going to sit and wait, doing nothing, these months can seem endless.
If you are wait-listed, you'll have to make a fundamental decision: Do you want to stay on the waitlist or pursue other options and enroll elsewhere? Of course, you'll have to enroll somewhere, usually by May 1. Since, in most cases, there's no concrete termination point for your waitlist uncertainty, the lack of closure can be maddening. Your self-marketing actions to get off the waitlist and onto the roles of accepted applicants will help you in another crucial psychological way.
Once you've followed this self-marketing plan and you're still on the waitlist, you can then withdraw and look elsewhere with peace of mind. Why? Well, if the actions I'm about to describe don't have a positive effect on your status, I can almost guarantee you that -- barring a miracle -- you wouldn't have been accepted anyway. It's important to bring closure to your college process within a reasonable amount of time, for you and your parents.
Okay, so what's this self-marketing plan? Briefly, it's all about finding a key contact at the school that has deferred or wait-listed you and feeding that person carefully planned information about your accomplishments and passion for that school. Here is the first part of your plan. I'll complete the remaining steps in my next article.
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 this is in several ways. First, you can check the school's website. 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 assignments, and (if you're really lucky) their email addresses. Here's a perfect example of that. If this information isn't available on the school's website, then you'll have to call the admissions office. Make these calls yourself. Don't have (or allow) your parents to do it.
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 for the name (and email address) of the person to whom you may direct correspondence concerning your situation. That should get you somewhere. Then, it's time to ...
2. State your case. My recommendation is to make your first contact with your rep in person by telephone, if at all possible. S/he'll be able to make some mental notes about your tone and infer the level and quality of your commitment to attend that school. You may fear that you'll be too nervous to sound convincing. However, remember that admissions reps are people too. They understand how stressful and important your application process is. Accordingly, any admissions rep worth his or her salt will give you more than the benefit of the doubt when you speak with them.
Be organized and to the point. Tell your rep that you're calling to get some perspective on your deferral or waitlisting. In most cases, the rep will retrieve your folder or look up your data on the computer while you're on the line. Then, s/he'll do a quick review of his or her notes and be as forthcoming as possible about why you were deferred or wait-listed.
After these preliminaries, you'll want to tell your rep briefly that you're still extremely interested in attending that school and you would like to stay in touch and provide further evidence of your worthiness to become a student there. After your discussion has concluded, your rep will make some kind of notation in your admissions folder summarizing the nature of the call.
Side note: It's conceivable that you could be deferred in December and then wait-listed in March or April, a kind of exquisite special torture that I wish on none of you. However, if this does happen, this self-marketing process will still work for you.
If you choose not to make your initial contact by phone but by email, your presentation should be much the same. One crucial difference, however, will be your forum. You'll have a bit of an advantage because your written message will give you total control. You won't have to think on your feet, answering unexpected questions, the way you might have to do in a phone conversation. The downside of written communication is that you won't have the opportunity to “read" your rep's manner, voice inflections, and general demeanor. There could be some clues in a written response, though, so keep your antenna up.
These first two steps of my self-marketing plan are the most detailed, so I'll allow you to absorb them before my next article, which will cover the remaining steps: timing, intensity, additional recommendations, the marketing mindset and a consistent focus. See you then.