The Ivy Coach Daily

September 28, 2023

Questions to Ask Admissions Officers on High School Visits

Two benches are featured by grass at Harvard University on a spring day.

Many parents who are not Ivy Coach’s clients come to us for a PostMortem after their children have been deferred or denied admission in the Early Action/Early Decision round. During this session, we discern what went wrong so that some of the same mistakes are avoided in the Regular Decision round. One common mistake? We often hear from parents that they — or their children — have been communicating with admissions officers at their dream schools. It’s a passing statement that usually leads us to cringe.

Asking Questions When Admissions Officers Visit Schools Is Okay

Why so? We at Ivy Coach have no issue with students asking a few insightful questions at an information session if an admissions officer pays a visit to the student’s high school. And we don’t have an issue with a student sending a brief follow-up question after introducing themselves at such a high school visit.

Pen-Paling with College Admissions Officers Is Discouraged

But, in our experience, when students and parents who didn’t work with Ivy Coach share with us that they’ve developed relationships with admissions officers, it usually does not serve the student’s case for admission and instead comes across precisely how they likely fear it comes across — as obsequious.

Admissions officers, you see, weren’t born yesterday. They know that a student isn’t just sending them emails because they think they’re a wonderful person. They know students have an ulterior motive. After all, they want to get in! And no matter how polite their responses, no matter how much you might wish to read between their lines, pen-paling with admissions officers rarely improves a student’s case for admission (though it can certainly hurt their case for admission!).

Oh, and if a parent has been communicating with an admissions officer on behalf of their child, we’d suggest crossing that school off your list at once — yikes!

Three Rules When Asking Questions to Admissions Officers

Yet when admissions officers visit high schools, it often presents an intimate setting in which a student can ask a couple of questions of the admissions officer. So, what kinds of questions should students ask? What kinds of questions should they avoid? Let’s dive in!

By framing your questions guided by the three rules below, you’ll be able to show rather than tell that the school is your first choice.

1. Ask specific questions, not generic ones. The answers to generic questions can be found online. Admissions officers want to see that you’ve done your homework on their school. After all, most of America’s elite colleges — even when they tell you the express opposite — measure Demonstrated Interest. 

For instance, admissions officers at the University of Chicago often say at information sessions that they don’t measure Demonstrated Interest. Yet then why do they ask applicants to answer, in one to two pages, a Why Chicago essay question? And why does UChicago indicate that they measure Demonstrated Interest on their Common Data Set release? See page 8 of the school’s Common Data Set: “Level of applicant’s interest.” It’s checked.

2. Ask a question only about the school rather than the school in comparison to other schools. So many students ask how a particular school differs from other schools. Just as people on dates shouldn’t talk about their exes, students shouldn’t compare the school to other schools. And they shouldn’t be essentially asking admissions officers to sell! They don’t work for high school students. They work for the universities they represent.

3. Ask a question about the school related to your particular hook. If your hook is Jewish studies, for example, ask about the Chabad or the Hillel. But do your homework on their Chabad and Hillel in advance so you’ll be able to phrase your question with specifics. For instance, if the Hillel does a March of the Living each summer, you might ask if they do other such events. If the admissions officer doesn’t know, it’s a perfect opportunity for them to get back to you.

How to Stand Out to College Admissions Officers on High School Visits

Aside from asking questions of admissions officers, below are other ways students can leave a great impression on admissions officers on their high school visits:

  1. Miss class if the admissions officer’s visit overlaps with a class. Priorities! If an admissions officer happens to visit your high school, this is an important opportunity for you to demonstrate interest. Their visits aren’t spontaneous, so, hopefully, you planned to attend well in advance.
  2. Smile. Admissions officers want to admit happy students, not sad students who will seek to transfer.
  3. Introduce yourself with a firm handshake either at the beginning or end of the session.
  4. Be kind to your classmates. Don’t hog the session with only your questions. There’s a right time and a wrong time to ask a question. Don’t speak out of turn.
  5. Dress nicely. You don’t need to wear a suit and tie or formal dress. But it would help if you appeared presentable. Mark your calendar not to be a slob on the day of such visits.
  6. Thank the admissions officer for taking the time to visit your high school. There are thousands of high schools around the world. They came to yours.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with Preparing for High School Visits by Admissions Officers

If you’re interested in presenting yourself as best as possible to admissions officers upon their visits to your school, fill out Ivy Coach’s free consultation form, and we’ll be in touch.

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