Every applicant aims to end up enrolling somewhere— at one college or university, ideally one that suits them well. Researching universities before applying pays off: the better informed applicants are, the better they can choose where to enroll. That same research can also help their chances in the admissions process: by convincingly sharing their ideas, dreams, and goals and how those fit with specific opportunities at each college or university, students can make their applications more compelling.
This is what admissions officers and counselors mean when we talk about match, which is a close proxy for demonstrated interest (the ways applicants connect with admissions offices and show universities how likely they are to accept an offer of admission).
As more admissions offices are turning to CRMs (Customer Relationship Management software) to facilitate their connections with prospective students and applicants, it has become easy to track and even to make assumptions about each applicant’s demonstrated interest: how many of our emails did the student open, did this applicant visit campus, etc. As admissions officers work to create a class by distinguishing among thousands of applicants, some turn to this readily available information to influence their decisions. How can HALI students and their advocates deal with the obvious challenges of showing and measuring demonstrated interest when the usual methods and metrics are limited? By focusing on match.
As students apply to more and more universities, and as we in admissions read more and more applications, clearly identifying these matches becomes harder for everyone. Students applying to dozens of schools may struggle to find time to research all of them, and admissions officers looking for a match may question an applicant’s interest, knowing that adding a school on the Common or Coalition Application may require only clicking a box. We wonder: is this student applying only because we have funding available? What does this student know about the university? In admissions committee at Duke, we’re best able to answer these questions when an applicant has written a well-researched, specific response to the Why Duke question—in other words, when an applicant has identified and successfully articulated the match. When a match is evident to an admissions committee, we’re more likely to admit a student confidently; when a match is evident to an admitted student, they’re more likely to enroll confidently.
I recognize the luxury of the match mindset, and I understand that for some HALI students best match might end up being synonymous with feasible funding. But I also know that HALI students and those who guide them are making intentional application choices among schools with funding available. And I believe that articulating match is not only about having direct exposure to or comprehensive knowledge of every university program or opportunity. The successful identification of a match depends most on self-awareness, some research (online is fine!), and effective communication.
How can HALI students identify matches?
- Virtual tours of the college, if available
- Course stats – availability, reputation, profs. With the profs, I make them check the news – awards, recent papers, breakthroughs
- Student blogs – all social media, official and unofficial feeds for on the ground and up to date info on the college.
- Alumni contacts from their program – who from a student’s program has gone in the past, has the applicant communicated with this person, what have they learned as a result? If not alums, then other HALI international students.
- Special awards/further scholarships available at the college – are any relevant to them
- What headlines/new buildings/development plans are relevant to them – why are they interested in this and how would they use the facilities
Once they’ve identified a match, what can HALI students do to show it?
- Consider EA/ED applications (for schools with guaranteed funding)
- Sign up online for the mailing list! (students can do this at any point prior to applying)
- Seek information from advisors and/or older peers’ at the same or similar institutions
- Answer optional questions on the application(especially “Why This University?” type)
- Explain why the US, besides availability of funding
- Explain which of the school’s opportunities particularly appeal to you
- Write clearly about what they hope to study (being undecided is ok, at many schools, but applicants should still share some of their academic interests) and about what else they hope to gain from a university experience
- Communicate with a counselor or advisor about reinforcing the applicant’s interests, context, and potential contributions. It helps if counselors/advisors can be explicit about any limitations (access, connectivity, connections) that may affect the application or the application process.
What should admissions officer NOT expect from HALI students?
- A campus visit
- Attendance at a college or university summer school program
- Consistent access to the internet or devices to open all emails in a timely manner
- Travel experiences or direct extensive exposure to foreign cultures (for example, to different mores and/or laws about religion or sexuality)
- That students applying for financial aid can limit their applications to a small group of schools
- Binding ED applications to schools that don’t meet full financial need
- Arts supplements or other application components that cost additional money
- Score reports from official testing agencies
- Standardized test scores that represent test prep or multiple test administrations
- Unlimited freedom to consider academic interests that may not be immediately practical or lucrative
This blog post was written by Anne Sjostrom, Associate Dean, Duke Undergrad Admissions (pictured on the left at the 2018 HALI Indaba)