Whether you are an underclassmen with a top choice college already or a senior who just got deferred, knowing when and how to communicate with the admissions office can directly impact your admissions decision. Sometimes a short email at the perfect time can seal the deal. But communicating too often can cause more harm than good.
Here are the basics surrounding this often misunderstood piece of the process:
Who do you communicate with? Most of the time, the admissions office is organized by geography. There is usually an admissions officer assigned to each region/state of the country. This person is usually the representative that travels to your area (even your high school) and is generally the primary reader of your application. If you're going to communicate with someone in the admissions office about your application, this is the best person to send a well-crafted email. Your regional admissions officer typically has input in your admissions decision and sometimes they even have the final say.
When I was an admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania and a student called or emailed me, I always replied. But it's getting harder and harder to find out an admissions officer's direct contact information. And I hear from my students more frequently these days that many admissions officers don't acknowledge their emails. This may be a function of workload and having too much on their plates, but it can be nerve-wracking for the student. Many times, these admissions officers will record or document the communication from the student in the application, but they may not respond back to the student directly.
Sometimes students want to communicate directly with the admissions dean or director. Unless you had a chance meeting or interview with the dean or director, they often will pass the email or letter onto the admissions officer responsible for your region. If they have a vested interest in your application, they might be more willing to consider your communication and personally respond to you. As a dean of admissions at Franklin & Marshall College, I didn't get to travel or meet as many students due to my other responsibilities. But when I met a really special student who made a positive impression on me, I would keep track of the student throughout the admissions process. Getting a powerful email from them made me want to admit them even more.
Communicating with an admissions office or admissions officer can come in the form of email, phone, or a formal letter. These days, admissions offices keep track of everything—every seemingly innocuous phone call you make, every email you send, and every update you submit. Phone calls to admissions officers are less common these days, but there are current students often handling the general phone calls that come into the office. And emails and formal letters usually become part of the student's overall file. So be judicious when it comes to communication.
"You can send an email, call, or pen a formal letter to an admissions officer, but above all, be judicious." TWEET THIS
When should you communicate with an admissions officer? Sending an email to an admissions officer after you visit a college campus as a junior is fairly harmless. Keep in mind, though, that most admissions officers are much more focused on the current seniors. Also, there is no guarantee that the admissions officer who is responsible for your region then will be your admissions officer when it comes time to apply. Admissions offices are notorious about moving their staff responsibilities around frequently especially if the admissions officer is younger and less experienced. I remember being at Penn and seeing four different admissions officers in charge of the same state four years in a row.
The best time to communicate with an admissions officer is AFTER you apply. But less is always more. For example, if you send the admissions officer an email before you apply, when you apply, and continually update them on a regular basis, they can easily get annoyed. Try to save your direct communication when you really need them--after you have been deferred or waitlisted. In other words, make sure there is real purpose behind your email or call. Informing the admissions officer on achievements or awards is sometimes better communicated through an admissions portal if they have one or saving it for a formal update after you have been deferred or waitlisted.
If you just got deferred, though, give yourself a little time before reaching out to the admissions officer. I usually recommend that students finish their remaining applications and make a plan to send a deferral letter sometime in early to mid-January. If you get waitlisted this spring, the timeline is condensed. If the college that waitlisted you is your top choice, send off that waitlist letter within days of getting your decision. Colleges can move quickly with students on the waitlist and the early bird gets the worm in this scenario.
Students can meet up with an admissions officer at their high school, local college fair, or on campus during a visit. Following up after you meet an admissions officer is not always as effective as it seems. Admissions officers meet thousands of students a year, and unless you or your follow up communication stood out to them, it typically doesn't make a significant difference. Admissions officers know that not everyone who communicates with them will ultimately apply (or be competitive in the applicant pool).
If an admissions office discourages students from communicating directly with an admissions officer, the student can usually update their application or send additional materials (like a deferral or waitlist letter) through an admissions portal. Some colleges will have a general email account for the same purpose. And smaller colleges may list the admissions officer's information on their site which makes it easy to communicate with them. But just because it's easy, doesn't mean you need to do it or need to do it often.
The secret to any communication with an admissions officer is to make sure it's the best set of words and thoughts you could ever put together. One typo, one negative word, or one canned line can have a negative effect. If you want more information on how to write the best deferral letter, check out my blog from last year, "The Love Letter to the College That Deferred You." Remember, less is more when it comes to additional communication. Let your application speak for itself.