Victoria Valle, the assistant vice chancellor of enrollment management at Southern Illinois University, also recommends that students check out blogs and other online media as a way to make connections or get information on a college. Think of it as "friending" your top-choice schools, says Rob Durkle, vice president and dean of admission for the University of Dayton in Ohio. And some schools, such as Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., are even using Facebook as a channel to answer questions from prospective students.
The very nature of the admissions process today could also provide an impetus for students to take action after they apply. Because it is so competitive, students are applying to a greater number of colleges to boost their chances of acceptance, and colleges are having a harder time estimating who will actually come. So "demonstrated interest," or keen enthusiasm for a school, is a factor that admissions officers are increasingly considering as they make their decisions. "We welcome phone calls from applicants who want to check on their status or simply tell us more about themselves that we can't find in the written application," says Sherri Salmon, dean of enrollment management at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Ala.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling, in its annual survey of admissions trends, recently found that 22 percent of colleges gave interest "considerable importance" in admissions, up from 7 percent in 2003. An additional 30 percent of schools rated it as moderately important. "Colleges want to accept students who are going to show up," says Arlene Cash, vice president for enrollment management at Spelman College, a historically black college in Atlanta. She adds, however, that students should heed that philosophy most at middle-tier colleges and universities. At open-enrollment colleges, there is no question about whether the student will get in, and at the superelite institutions, "there are too few admissions staffers with too many things coming at them," she says. If you've got your sights set on a highly selective school, Cash says your best bet is making sure all elements of your application are flawless. "You want to stay on their radar, but it can be distracting if you get in their faces too much," she warns.
Scott Friedhoff, vice president for enrollment and communications at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, offers some slightly different advice. "Calling the admissions office to see if obtaining tickets to a play, concert, or ballgame is possible" could yield positive results, he says.
But regardless of the extent to which admissions officers weigh—or appreciate—demonstrated interest or personalized touches, experts say those elements will most likely not trump other factors like grades or test scores. "There's no amount of expressed interest or post-application submission activity that can take the place of a strong academic profile," says Gil Villanueva, dean of admission at the University of Richmond in Virginia. He adds that admissions staffers would not want to disadvantage applicants who might not have the resources to fly out to a campus to demonstrate their interest.
Still, if your goal is simply to make an impression—good or bad—sending a self-designed postcard or newsletter could be the way to go. "There is nothing that can compensate for a strong initial application," says Cheryl Brown, director of undergraduate admissions at SUNY–Binghamton. "But we sure get a kick out of seeing how creative students can be!"