Everyone knows that after an interview with an admissions counselor, you have to send a thank-you note, email or snail-mail. (And if you didn’t know, well, there you go, now you know.) But what about beyond that? Is it okay to email them with general questions you have about the college admissions process? What about if you just want to say hi and you’re excited about the university? Or if you have any questions regarding visiting or interviewing or the campus layout?
Yes. The answer is yes.
Remember, a college admissions officer is there for the students. They will always answer your questions and if they can’t, they’ll direct you to someone who can. Their entire job is to both attract students to their university and choose who will become the next members of the incoming class.
So with that in mind, let’s talk about communication.
What do I mean by “communicate”?
By communicate, I mean reaching out to them by email, through snail-mail, or by phone call. This could be with questions, or for scheduling an interview or campus visit. And not necessarily just your admissions officer, but an alumni interviewer or a college in general.
How can you find your admissions counselor?
You might be wondering why I’m saying “your” admissions counselor. That’s because although there’s a huge office of admissions officers, only one of them will first read your application. This is “your” admissions counselor - they are often divided up based on geographic area. (For more on how exactly college admissions works, click here.)
For example, I would look for the admissions officer responsible for the state of New Jersey, and reach out to them. Most of the time, this information is available on a college admissions office website. Google “college name admissions office” or “college name admissions officer your state” and it should show up, along with their contact information - both a phone number and email.
Sometimes, schools do not display who exactly is responsible for different applications, either because they do not have a defined boundary until applications start to come in, or they do not use a geographical review system. In this case, it’s always acceptable to email or call the general admissions office, where there will be a junior counselor, possibly even a student, fielding emails and forwarding them to the correct counselor. To find this contact information, Google “college name admissions office” and it should be somewhere on that page on the university’s website.
How should you communicate with them?
Ideally, email. But calling usually works too. Snail-mail is the least efficient, but there’s a time and a place for snail-mail too.
You can use email pretty much at any time of the day, any day of the week, all that jazz, so it’s definitely the most convenient. Plus, there is a much higher likelihood that the admissions officer will have access to their email, as opposed to their office phone number. And an email does not require an immediate reply like a phone call, so it will be easier for the admissions counselor to answer your questions. Just keep in mind when you send an email, however, to use a professional email address, and even better, use the one that you will use on your college application, just so that’s it’s easier for the admissions officer to connect your application with your communication. And remember that emails have timestamps, so try not to send that email at 2 am in the morning, even if you’re not expecting a reply at the time.
The best time to use a phone is if you have an urgent question that can’t wait a day or two to be answered. You're almost guaranteed a reply, but more often you are rerouted to the general admissions office instead of your specific counselor. So use this more for emergencies and minor problems rather than establishing a line of communication. Just remember when making phone calls, call within their hours at a reasonable time, and always ask the name of the person you are speaking to, just in case you need it for future reference (to do this, right before you hang up you can ask “And in case I have more questions, may I ask who is speaking?” or “I’m sorry, but what was your name again?”).
When is it appropriate to communicate with your admissions counselor?
Pretty much anytime is okay. Ideally, you would first email them during August or September, before they got into the traveling or admissions process, and when they’re still fresh into the new school year. It’s important to get in contact with admissions counselors from schools that keep track of “demonstrated interest”, like Carnegie Mellon for example. (You can find out if a school tracks demonstrated interest by googling “college name common data set” and Ctrl+F interest, or looking at the college on Collegedata.com, which has all of this information.)
But besides the schools that track interest, it’s generally good to get into your admissions counselor’s head before the application season and make an impression. It doesn’t have to be anything special, just a question about the application or university or degree program will do. For example, I asked my admissions counselor in Brandeis about the 4-year BS/MS in Neuroscience way back in August. This 1) answered my question, 2) connected me to current students in the 4-year program, 3) got me super excited about the prospect of getting a Master’s in 4 years, and 4) let the admissions officer know that I was interested in the program and the university enough to actually email him. (Looking back at the email thread, I might have used a few too many exclamation points and used a smiley face that probably wasn’t appropriate, but that’s alright.)
So, my point is, ask questions early and as often as you need to. Don’t ask questions just for the sake of asking, though, really think about what you are asking and make sure it’s not some stupid stat you can google. (For example, I ended my first email with “And I'm really sorry if this information is available online, I didn't know where to start looking, so even a link if possible would be very helpful! :)” just to cover my bases.)
But besides this initial contact, there are a few other times that are great times to get in touch with the admissions counselor. If the counselor for your area is coming to your school for a college fair, and maybe you don’t get to ask them all of the questions you had during the fair itself, after the fair is a great time to shoot them an email saying how you were at the fair and wanted to ask a couple more questions.
Another sort-of “must-communicate” time is the post-interview - if you do have it with an admissions counselor. Increasingly, interviews are with alumni instead of actual admissions officers, but in case you do manage to score an on- or off-campus admissions counselor interview, it is imperative to send a thank-you afterward. Keep reading for more on post-interviews.
What about after an interview?
Immediately following the interview (okay, maybe not immediately, but definitely within 24 hours) send a thank you email to the person that conducted the interview. This email doesn’t have to be a novel, just a few sentences on how you’re excited about applying to the school, how much you appreciated their time, and any other questions you may have had. To keep it from sounding generic, make sure to add a little quip or reference to your interview specifically. For example, my last sentence to a U or R admissions counselor was “Best wishes to you (and your Giants) this fall!”, because we spent an inordinate amount of time talking about Eli Manning’s face and what it does to Patriots defenses (smile if you get the joke).
As an alternative to a personal email, a lot of people like sending thank-you cards, which is also amazing and great and personal. Make sure that card reaches them by the next day though! If it’s any later, it might be too late for them to include it in the file, or in general, it might feel awkwardly late. Of course, nothing beats the feeling of receiving a handwritten note (plus there’s a chance it might get dropped into your admissions file - if anything is still paper-driven these days), but keep in mind that with a handwritten thank you note, you do not receive a confirmation of receipt. That person is not going to send a letter back to you, so you will forever be wondering if they got it. Plus, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to write a thank-you note because they will not be in their office for a while. That was my situation with my U of R interview - the admissions counselor was in Jersey traveling, and wouldn’t receive the note until like November, which would be weirdly late.
So even though a lot of people say you have to send a thank-you note, a nice and personal email is great too.
Should you communicate with them after the admissions process?
This really depends. If you got accepted, you might shoot them a quick “I’m excited” and “thank you again for the consideration”, but even this is not really necessary. If you’ve formed a somewhat bond with your admissions counselor (a little weird, but whatever works), you can shoot an email even if you didn’t get accepted, but it’s really not that necessary.
(Also, if you were interviewed by an alum during the admissions process, you should send a quick email to them letting them know if you got in or not.)
If you got waitlisted, there’s a whole process you should take about contacting your admissions counselor, sending a letter of intent/interest, and an update just in case they review their wait list to make more admission. (I’ll try to write a post on this later, maybe when I inevitably get waitlisted at multiple universities).
If you got accepted and are denying their offer of acceptance (i.e. choosing to go to a different college) it’s just common courtesy to shoot them an email with “thanks for the opportunity” and to let them know a spot opened up, helping them decide whether to go over their waitlist and giving them an idea of the numbers before Decision-Day.
Hopefully, that made contacting your admissions counselor seem less intimidating :)
If you have any questions, I can’t promise I’ll have the answer, but don’t hesitate to ask!
And as always, thanks for reading!