So you’re sitting in homeroom listening to morning announcements and still trying to wake up the rest of the way.  Through your sleepy haze you hear, “Juniors and seniors please sign up in the guidance office for college visits.   This week we’ll be hosting…”  Or you might hear, “A representative from State University will be stationed outside the cafeteria today, stop by if you’re interested.”  Still yawning you think, “What am I supposed to say to a ‘representative?’”  You end up sidling up to the college table like a ninja, trying to grab a brochure without being noticed, and fade back into the crowd.  Or you attend the “college visit,” sit in the back, text through the presentation while congratulating yourself for getting out of Calc, and bolt at the bell.  As one of those representatives who held hundreds and hundreds of these visits I totally understood that while they were tediously routine for me, they’re completely foreign to you.  I hate to break it to you but in either of these scenarios you just missed a golden opportunity.

A little background on what these visits actually are.  Admissions counselors wear many hats.  While they’re most known for making admissions decisions this is really only about a third of what they do throughout the year.  They’re also master marketing strategists, data analysts, event planners, and, in the fall, essentially traveling salesmen.  However, we prefer the term “ROAD WARRIORS!”

Admissions counselors are all assigned territories--theses could be a few counties local to the college they work for, a cluster of states across the country, or a mixture of the two.  Aside from just communicating with applicants from those regions and reading the applications they’re also responsible for recruiting students in those areas.  This includes attending college fairs, hosting regional events, and visiting anywhere from 50-150 high schools each fall.  

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This responsibility turns mild-mannered counselors into hardy travelers for 8-12 weeks a year.  We live out of our rental cars from roughly mid-September to mid-November, subsisting off nothing but granola bars, free hotel cookies, and Starbucks (they have free wifi).  

While you can encounter your admissions counselors at any of these seasonal events I’m focusing on the high school college visit because I think it’s the biggest missed opportunity.  At either a fair or a reception Mom and Dad are probably with you, coaching you through the planned encounter.  At a college visit you’re on your own, forced to make the most of the visit that’s scheduled between your Chem final and gym class.

And that’s why this is such a missed opportunity!  When an admissions counselor is at your high school there’s most likely a much smaller group of students than in other venues, giving you the most potential face-time with your counselor outside of an interview.  Especially considering that at many schools you won’t interview with your actual counselor (if at all) and during the visit all the other students are just as clueless this is your time to shine!  You’ve got a perfect forum to put yourself on your counselor’s radar.  

So what should you do?  Instead of the usual high-schooler response of mumbling and avoiding eye-contact pretend this visit is a group interview.  It will most likely begin with the admissions rep giving some sort of information session.  You might already know a lot of the information, it doesn’t matter, pay attention.  Take notes.  Especially pay attention when they talk about the admissions process because this is the person in charge of YOUR admissions process.  If there was ever a time to get insider information it’s now.

Once the session is over there will be time for Q&A.  Ask questions.  Intelligent ones.  Please don’t ask a question that was answered during the presentation (hence the paying attention).  Ask something thoughtful and unique, maybe something specific to you.  Show that you’re really giving thought to your future at this university.

After all that hang around before bolting off to class.  I know you’re taking your life in your hands by risking being late to English Lit but trust me, it’ll be worth it.  Take the time to walk up to the counselor and shake their hand.  Here’s where the eye contact comes in.  Introduce yourself.  Tell them how you heard about the college and why you’re excited about it.  Ask for their business card if you don’t have it already.

This is where you bring it home.  That evening, use that business card to write the counselor an email thanking them for their informative visit.  Remind them who you are.  Tell them to keep an eye out for your application.  Ask them to please let you know if there will be other events in your area.

And BAM.  Through the monotonous day of visitor’s parking, confrontations with their GPS, and sub-par diner food you became a beacon of gratitude in the counselor’s day.  Their Road Warrior status suddenly feels appreciated and for that, they will appreciate you.  They will remember you.  And when your application crosses their desk a few months later they’ll smile and remember the one high schooler that stood out from the crowd.