We’re in the peak of college admissions season right now, and if you’re like most students, you have a ton of questions. Different colleges sometimes have very different expectations and requirements, and the written directions and explanations are often just not very clear. For example, if you’re applying to a special engineering program at the college, does the application for that program get read by the general admissions office as well? Or what’s the best way to get a letter of recommendation translated if you’ve agreed to not look at your letter on the Common App? In these situations, we highly recommend that students get these questions answered as quickly as possible. This is so important because time is very limited for students, and accurate information is key to writing a good application. Most often, students will just guess about what they should do, or they will talk to their friends and rely on common wisdom.
At The Spike Lab, we strongly advise students to take matters into their own hands and contact admissions offices directly to get all important questions answered. It’s not easy, but it’s completely worth it. Most often, the biggest challenge with calling a college is the psychological barrier of talking to strangers. In terms of time, it’s actually quite fast with an average call taking just five minutes if you don’t have too many questions. Not only will you get some much needed clarity on your application, but you’ll also exercise and demonstrate your proactiveness and independence.
What should you do before you call?
If you’re looking for answers, then you don’t want to be a nuisance. It’s generally a good idea to do your own research ahead of time on each college’s admissions website, college forums / message boards, or by talking to others like professional college counselors at your school or elsewhere.
Besides doing research, you should also be collecting a list of questions. You want to be efficient with your time, so you should get all of your questions answered together. Asking your questions one at a time is more time consuming and potentially annoying for the admissions office.
After you’ve done your research but before you make the phone call, we suggest that you email your question first. This is good for a few reasons. First, there’s a decent chance that the college will respond quickly and clearly. In this case, you won’t have to make the phone call anymore! Second, colleges admissions offices definitely prefer email to phone calls because then they can respond at their own pace. Third, it creates a clear reason for why you’re calling. Saying, “I had reached out a week ago with ____ question” is a lot more compelling than simply, “I don’t understand _____.”
Emailing should be extremely quick. We encourage students to have a pre-written template that they can quickly modify and add questions to. Here’s something you can quickly copy and paste into any email you’re sending.
My name is [Your Name], and I’m a senior at [Your School]. I’m really interested in [College Name], and I had a few questions about applying.
List your questions here.
Be as specific as possible.
Use examples wherever appropriate.
Thanks so much for your time and attention, and I look forward to your reply.
How do you call?
We’ve already done the hard work for you! Check out our updated College Full List, which now includes phone numbers and emails to the admissions offices of each university. These phone numbers and email addresses will connect you with the general admissions offices for each respective school.
Can’t find your school on our College Full List? No problem, you can also find the contact information on your own. Search up the school’s admissions office and call the number provided. If the school doesn’t list the admissions office, you can also call their main contact number and ask to be connected to someone from the admissions office.
For international students, you’ll want to make sure that you’re calling the admissions office during a time when they are actually open for business. Not all offices open at 9am, so it’ll be your responsibility to double check their open hours before you make the phone call. For example, Berkeley’s admissions office is open from 9am to 4pm Pacific Time, which becomes 12 midnight to 7am Taiwan Time.
What do I say?
Always start by introducing yourself. You might get redirected to different offices, especially if you called their main phone number, so you’ll be talking to people who have no idea who you are. You don’t need to go into your autobiography, but give them an idea of who you are. For example, “Hi, my name is Larry and I’m a senior at Northville High School.” When you arrive at the right person, you’ll want to ask your question (obviously) and then ask any followup questions. Good followups are key because you don’t want to leave the call with an incomplete understanding of what you originally intended to ask. If their response is confusing or unclear, ask them to clarify or to explain it in a different way or to give examples.
Pro Tip: You won’t always be talking to someone who can actually help you, so it’s useful to phrase your question in a way that’s asking for direction instead of the answer. For example, if you’re trying to find the school’s policy on score choice, you might ask, “I’m trying to learn the school’s policy on score choice, and I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction.” Directly asking “What’s your school’s policy on score choice?” might be too direct and off-putting for someone if they don’t know how to help you.
Pro Tip: Your follow-up questions don’t have to be actual questions. They can also be used to clarify or confirm information. For example, you could say, “So what I’m hearing you say is…” and then just repeat back your best understanding of what they just explained. This is a great way to check your own understanding of something that you think is important.
How do I end the conversation?
Thank them (obviously) but also ask them for their contact information if they were helpful. Despite your best efforts, you’ll probably have more questions down the line, and it’ll be useful to have a direct line of communication that you can access for quick responses.
Pro Tip: Don’t be stingy with your thanks. Thank them for specifics like their time, or how much they helped you, or how much better you feel now. These folks have to deal with countless stress-fueled questions, and it’s a rather thankless job. College admissions officers are people too and they appreciate being appreciated.
The bottom line when it comes to contacting schools is that you should JUST DO IT. There’s often a lot of hesitancy and nervousness when it comes to calling strangers, but there’s really no way around it if you want quick and accurate answers. We understand that there’s an age differential and often a language barrier, but your future is worth it. If you complete your application with incomplete or inaccurate information, then your whole application could be discarded or put on hold depending on the severity of your error. Why take that chance when a five minute email and/or a 10 minute phone call can guarantee can get your question fully answered?