Strategy for College Applications and Admissions

The following piece was written by Dr. Joan Martin, Ph.D. Joan has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is the founder of She holds degrees from the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and MIT.

The Stealth Applicant: What Not to Do

Travelling incognito, this new type of student who applies to colleges without much contact other than the application has a new name – Stealth Applicant.

The Common Application and the internet have fostered the phenomenon of these faceless applicants, and admissions offices are bombarded with their applications. Admissions officers continually face the question: do we accept the stealth applicant with the high SAT/GPA or the one who has demonstrated unusual enthusiasm through visits, interviews, and continued contact with the geographic representative?

As a rule, if two students with similar GPA’s/SAT scores, extracurricular activities, and strong essays are competing for the same spot, the one with the strong connection to the campus will always win out even if the academic index is a bit lower.

How to Create a Strong Connection

Be Proactive!  

  1. Research each college on the website prior to any contact so you can determine your fit with that college. Fit is defined as finding specific programs, departments, courses, professors and their research that fulfill your academic and intellectual pursuits. If you can make a connection here, you are on your way to outdistancing any stealth applicant. Even if you do not know what you are going to major in, just find something that piques your interest.
  2. Take the information in #1 and start making your connections. Email a professor about your interest in his/her courses and research. Ask if you could see a reading list from those courses. Ask if there are any links to his/her research.
  3. If the professor emails back, continue the correspondence with the professor by asking more detailed questions and ask if you could meet him/her when you visit the campus. Come prepared with even more dynamite questions. It is a good bet that the professor will CC your correspondence to the Admissions Office.
  4. Now, email the geographic representative for your area and describe your interaction with the professor. Or if there has been no interaction, describe in detail your connection to the college, the information gathered in #1.
  5. At your interview and in your application, refer in some way to this active involvement.
  6. You have now demonstrated “fit”, perhaps the most important element of acceptance.

Demonstrate Enthusiasm!

  1. If the geographic representative visits your high school, be the first person in the room, introduce yourself, and present him/her with your resumé, if you have one. Send an email to that person thanking him/her for the presentation; attach your resumé.
  2. Attend any Road Show of that college that may come to town. Again, introduce yourself and send an email.
  3. Seek out alumni in the area. If you do not know anyone personally, then check with the college for an alumni chapter in your area. Email the president and ask if you could meet with members to talk about their experiences at the college. Document this meeting by sending an email to the geographic representative.

The Ping Letter

  1. Send an email to the geographic representative by November 10th, if you are applying Early Decision/Early Action, and March 1st if you are applying Regular Decision. In the email, update the representative with any new activities, increase in grades and scores, and anything else that is academically exciting to report, like a new award. If you participate in Theater or Band, send the representative information about any new plays or concerts.
  2. If you do not have anything new to report, send an email stating your enthusiasm for the college and something that demonstrates your fit even better. 


The point of this blog posting is to show you, the prospective student, how to stand out against all the other students. Applying to college is a strategy; most students only think about sending in their grades and scores and then writing the application essays. But there are so many other ways that a student can present his/her case to the admissions committee. If you make connections with professors and geographic representatives, you will stand out. Be a giraffe or a peacock and leave the stealth to Jason Bourne and the CIA.

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The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.