Like many of my colleagues, I follow the treatment of the college admissions process in the media, and an article in The NYTimes "The Choice" column caught my attention this morning. Jacques Steinberg poses the question: "Is there a danger in pestering an Admissions Officer?" As touched on in his response to this question, there are a few different issues at play here:
1) Does it make a difference whether a student or parent is contacting an Admissions Officer?
2) Will calling or e-mailing an Admissions staff member help your chances of admission?
3) Is there a tipping point at which some contact becomes too much contact?
I think the confusion surrounding the topic of student (or parent) contact stems from the fact that colleges and universities approach this matter in very different ways. As Mr. Steinberg notes, "many (Admissions)offices will keep track of the number of queries they receive, particularly from the applicants themselves, as a possible measure of interest." In the Admissions world, we sometimes refer to this type of contact as "demonstrated interest," the idea being that students who visit campus, call, and e-mail are more interested in attending your institution, and are therefore more likely to matriculate if admitted.
The Admissions Office at Dartmouth College DOES NOT consider demonstrated interest as a factor in our admissions process. I recognize that this is difficult for some students, parents, and guidance counselors to believe, but it's true. If you take the time to apply to our College, we consider that to be the only necessary demonstration of your interest in attending our institution. Our job is to carefully review each application that comes into our office and thoughtfully select a great mix of students for each incoming class. Once we decide to admit you, it is our responsibility to convince you that Dartmouth is the best place for you to spend the next four years.
So what happens if you call or e-mail our office? Unless you are contacting us with an update to your application (please e-mail these in, instead of calling!), nothing. I will do my best to answer your questions in a thoughtful manner, and then I will hang up or delete your e-mail and go back to what I was doing.
Does it matter to me whether a parent or child is contacting our office? Not really. I think it's important for students to feel like they are in control of this process, but I also understand that there are many different family dynamics out there, and to be honest, people call our office for a variety of reasons.
I often field calls from parents who are simply concerned - they love their children and want the best for them, but there are so many myths and competing sources of information about the admissions process that they just want to make sure they are doing everything they can to help their child succeed. I often don't get the name of the parents placing these calls, and I don't mind having these conversations. This can be a confusing, frustrating, and tremendously disappointing process for families, and if a short phone call can help to relieve some of this tension I am happy to help. That being said, I do think that parents should encourage their children to take responsibility for their own college search and application processes.
(I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to take charge of the process, but also understood that, as a 17-year-old high school student who had never been to the east coast before, college was still in many ways an abstract concept for me. I needed my independence and their support, and I was fortunate to have both.)
Finally, when does some contact become too much contact? I think common sense and common courtesy should be the rule here. Unless you don't have regular internet access, my colleagues and I would appreciate it if you avoided calling or emailing our office with questions that can be easily answered by our website. If you have done your research and still have questions, we are happy to hear from you. Similarly, I would avoid sending in constant updates to your application. As I mentioned above, we are not looking at demonstrated interest, so it is the quality of the materials in your application and not the quantity that matters.
Think about it this way - our process requires me to file each update to your application in your electronic file. If you send in approximately one update a week between January and March, you could easily have 10 additional pieces of information in your file by the time we enter the final stages of our decision-making process. When readers open electronic applications, especially as we move towards the final stages of our process, they are encouraged to look at new information first. So one of our readers is going to open your application, and the first thing they will have to do is dig through 10 short e-mails with minor updates that you were only really sending in because you thought you were supposed to in order to show us how badly you wanted to attend our school. Is this going to change the outcome of your application? Probably not. But I know that if it were me, I would want a reader to see the big picture first, and I wouldn't want to dilute the impact of my personal statement and recommendations with a bunch of emails about how I was named student-of-the-week for the 3rd week in a row. If you have important information that you want to add to your application, by all means send it in. But be thoughtful about what you are sending, and try to create a single, well-written, comprehensive update instead of allowing your message to get lost in the sheer volume of material your are adding to your application.