The summer is a slower time for college admissions offices and regional admissions representatives. While representatives welcome campus visitors and host information sessions in the first part of the summer all would agree that it is a quieter period. Office publications by MIT and Vanderbilt discuss the summer as a time when representatives are able to step back to try to understand the prior cycle and think about fall activity and the next cycle. Importantly, the focus shifts to their next group of students.
At a time when representatives are seasonally changing their focus it is important to understand how college admissions has changed. In her 2022 article, ‘Holistic Admissions in Higher Education: Challenges and Promises’ Ou Lydia Liu quotes studies that conclude that 95% of the selective colleges in America currently practice holistic admissions. While the way colleges define 'holistic' can be frustratingly different, it is clear that in addition to mostly objective information like grades, course loads and standardized test scores, knowing the whole applicant means additional, more subjective sources are increasingly important. Of interest is NACAC’s 2021 survey of 447 admissions representatives that mentions student ‘character’ as an important part of the decision process. In fact, 'character' and personality are viewed as more important than essays, counselor recommendations, teacher recommendations, demonstrated interest, interviews and extra-curricular activity. Even more interesting is that the importance of 'character' is greater at private and more selective institutions where over 40% of representatives viewed it as one of the most important pieces of the admissions process .
This is important because the individual who generally has the greatest input in determining a student’s ‘character’ and qualitative strength is the admissions representative who is responsible for the applicant’s region.
While a representative can develop an opinion from interviews, letters of recommendation and essays the truth is that the quieter summer months present students with an opportunity to influence their representative and the holistic process. While not every school cares about ‘demonstrated interest’ all of them tend to care about their yield, and ‘demonstrated knowledge’ which can give them conviction on a student-by-student basis. Dedicating some time to explore college websites is a good way to demonstrate both. Emailing questions that come from the exploration of a college website is a great way to highlight a student’s interests and passions while demonstrating interest and knowledge long before their application is submitted.
We have been told repeatedly that in the slower summer period, emails are more likely to be thoughtfully answered and the applicant’s strengths are more likely to be remembered. It is also worth considering that the software used in most admissions offices saves email communications in the same digital file an application may ultimately be in, making them another part of the application that can influence decisions.
In brief, we believe the summertime is a great time for students to increase college website visits and to start trying to build a 'brand' with their regional representatives. The representatives we speak with continue to tell us that authentic and thoughtful questions that highlight some of an applicant’s strengths can be very powerful when done judiciously and with an eye to the admissions officer’s time. We would encourage applicants to reach out in this way and are available to help those that need help doing it.