Tackling the Info Session
Within the broad college admissions community, I’ve found that college information sessions have a very mixed rep. On the one hand, there’s the opinion that nothing can give you as much insight about a school as hearing an admissions officer speak. Seasoned college students and applicants alike often reflect back to that “one moment” where they realized that a school was perfect for them. Oftentimes, this can occur as they learn about specialized programs or activities that suit them—insight often shared at college information sessions. On the other side of the debate is the weary college visitor, dragged to so many info sessions that all the information seems to blend together. After a while, each information session can indeed seem redundant— rankings, average GPA, and talk of all the available “vibrant opportunities”. While the facts and numbers may vary from school to school, the main gist tends to stay the same. All colleges simply aim to sell themselves and use information to convince you— the applicant— why you should apply.
As a visitor and prospective college applicant, it becomes your job to pick out the valuable information and make the most out of each information session. Admissions officers aren’t usually there to entertain. Instead, their job is merely to inform and, in most cases, persuade. If you truly do want to make the most out of each information session, it requires some important personal involvement. Here are some tips for success:
1. Take notes: Writing down relevant information is an essential part of the college info session. It’s important, however, to focus only on the “necessary” things. Write down the mentioned activities that you want to participate in. Make a note of things that are distinctive to this school in particular (i.e. admission into a specific college, study abroad options, available scholarships etc.). Don’t focus on scribbling down arbitrary numbers. While the admissions representative will most likely cover things such as cost of attendance or the student-teacher ratio, there’s no need to write it down. Concrete figures such as these are almost always available on each college website. Instead of writing down every loose bit of information, it’s a great idea to make a note of the college’s website for future reference. Your notes will serve as a helpful guide, even months after your visit.
2. Ask questions: If college applicants were asked to describe the application process in one word, I have no doubt that “confusing” would be a top contender. However, asking questions is vital in clarifying all the tedious aspects of the process. If you miss something or just need clarification, never hesitate to ask the representative. Speakers will usually remain available after formal info sessions to speak to prospective students and answer any questions. Even if the session has spoken for itself or you’ve already written off the school, it never hurts to shake hands with the rep, and snag a business card. You never know where your college search will lead you in the future, and it always helps to have a contact at each school you’ve visited. If any questions pop into your mind after you’ve gone home, there’s no better way to find answers and concurrently display demonstrated interest, than emailing a rep.
3. Write a Reflection: Emotions and impressions are rarely stable. You may feel sure of one thing today, and then vehemently oppose it within a few months. In my experience, I’ve found that college impressions can often work in the same way. When you’re open-minded and relaxed, the school you visit may seem ideal. However, the potential stress and turmoil of the following months may cloud your opinion completely. In order to keep this from happening, it’s helpful to write an earnest reflection after each college visit and information session. Using detail, write a note to your future self, focusing on what you liked, didn’t like, and any aspects that stood out from your visit. Again, don’t focus on writing down facts. Instead, talk about what appeals to you, or what makes you hesitatant to apply. As you eventually begin submitting applications in the following months, your past reflections will prove vital. Re-read them to prevent any skewed opinions.
4. Connect. After you’ve visited your lengthy list of schools, it’s important to maintain a level of involvement. It’s definitely easy to throw away the notes and business cards you acquired at your session, but this can be counter-productive. Instead, use your new resources to show a school just how much you like them. Send a “thank you” note to the representative who spoke to you and answered your questions. Managed to snag an email address from the tour guides? Email them, and re-iterate just how helpful they were in the process. Not only is reaching out a sign of courtesy and respect, but it’s also a fool-proof way to show a college that you really care. When it comes down to it, demonstrated interest won’t necessarily make or break your admissions decision. However, it can definitely boost your standing, and maybe even push you over the edge of a similar pool of applicants. Obviously, a school would much rather admit an enthusiastic and intelligent applicant, over a similarly qualified, apathetic student. Post-info session connections are very important!
Overall, the college information session is vital— both for the sake of information and exposure. It’s up to you to make the most of it.
Image courtesy of Cal State Fullerton.