Technology and the Fat Envelope


When I was applying to colleges, back in the dark ages, I typed up each application on an actual typewriter, addressed and stamped my envelopes, and sent in my applications through snail mail – after kissing each envelope for good luck, of course! I would wait and wait, hoping for a fat envelope that would contain an offer of admission, housing information, and my ticket to the future. Skinny envelopes were the worst – they were from colleges that turned me down.

Today’s application process has gone almost entirely electronic. The Common App, the Universal App, and colleges themselves are encouraging students to apply online. There is sometimes even an extra fee for a paper application! Most schools send their admissions decisions through email or texting – no more waiting for the fat envelope.

The Web is an amazing thing for researching schools too. You don’t have to write a letter to a college admissions office and request a course catalog and a college brochure. Instead, you can click around a college website and get the feel of a school in a matter of minutes. You can follow a college on Twitter, listen to podcasts from actual students, or see photos of campuses on Instagram. Looking online is a big time saver.

Yet there are still some benefits to working the “people side” of applying to college. It’s the people, after all, who will make or break your college experience.

First, make friends with your high school counselor! He or she will be writing a recommendation for you. It’s helpful to give your counselor a copy of your academic resume; email is a great way to deliver it. You can text them (if you have the number) to draw their attention to your email if you think your information might get lost in the shuffle.

Second, don’t be afraid to contact your local admissions representative in person and, later, online. He or she travels to your high school to tell you about the school and to meet you in person. There’s something great about the face-to-face experience of meeting the rep. He or she will probably be the first person to review your application, so it’s helpful if you’ve put a name with a face – in this case, yours!

Third, if you’ve been able to visit a school, make sure someone in admissions knows you’re there. If you have time – and make time! – schedule an interview with an admissions representative. Dress nicely, but not formally. Don’t chew gum. All that stuff. Also, don’t be nervous. This is really the time for YOU to ask questions. At this point in the game, the colleges are pursuing you. (It’s later on, after you send your applications in, that you’ll be on the other side.) Feel free to ask probing questions like: What kind of student would thrive here? Can you tell me a few adjectives that would describe your ideal student? What are you looking for in your applications? What’s something not so great about this school?

Technology has changed the admissions process for students and colleges, but ultimately it’s about the personal connection you make with a school. Can you see a college as a place where you will find your tribe? Is the school a good match for you? Technology can get you part of the way there, but it’s your personal relationships that will get you that fat envelope.

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