Have you ever wondered if there’s a secret to admission at an Ivy League university? I know I always did. Luckily, my interview with Dartmouth shed some light on the answer, and I’m thrilled to share the insight with all fellow Ivy hopefuls.
Interviews are usually optional in the college application process. I chose to interview with each school I applied to, believing I could maximize my likelihood of admission. My Dartmouth College interview was one of my last, so I felt confident that I knew what to expect. I spoke to the co-District Enrollment Director for my county. What I learned was astonishing.
The interview began as expected: what were my numbers – SAT, ACT, AP scores, GPA, and rank; how had I demonstrated grit and resilience in the past; what were my aspirations, strengths, and weaknesses.
Then the interviewer leaned in. “Is Dartmouth your top choice?” I didn’t hesitate, “Yes.” Important piece of advice: even if the answer is no or if you’re not sure, confidently say yes and have reasons to back up your interest. Your interviewers must believe that their school is your first choice!
As the interview was coming to a close, he revealed that while he liked me, he found my profile weaker than that of the typical Dartmouth applicant. He then shared this bit of wisdom: at Dartmouth, professor recommendations are very valuable and influential in admissions.
When he learned of my childhood in Egypt, he recommended I contact someone in the Dartmouth Arabic department to express my interest in the professor’s work and how I envisioned myself contributing. He suggested that securing an interview and a recommendation from a Dartmouth professor would practically guarantee my acceptance.
How to Approach a Professor for a Recommendation
- Find a professor who engages in work, a program, or research that is of interest and significance to you.
- Familiarize yourself with the professor’s work.
- Send an email to your professor of choice, expressing your interest in getting involved with his or her work, program, or research.
- From the professor’s point of view: professors will only respond if they sense maturity, respect, and authenticity in the email they receive. Your interest in the professor’s work, program, or research should be sincere.
- What the email should contain: your name, high school, that you are applying to the institution where they teach, and your desire to participate and contribute to the selected department. For added effectiveness, make sure to include that you would like to converse over coffee at a time convenient for the professor.
Sample Email TO A PROFESSOR
Hi Professor (last name),
My name is First Last, and I am a (grade level) at Example High School. I am applying to Example University as a first-year, and I am particularly excited about the (name of department) Department! Considering my experience in (subject related to work of interest), your (work/research/program) in the department inspires me! My (subject) experience has taught me (insert a quality appreciated in the department); I would love to sit over coffee and learn more from you!
I sincerely appreciate your time, and I am excited to hear back.
DURING THE COFFEE OR MEETING WITH THE PROFESSOR
- During your meeting, let the conversation flow naturally. Maintain focus on your desire to become part of the program, but feel comfortable following a different subject if the professor changes it.
- Conclude the exchange with a vision of your contributing to the department. Explain that a recommendation from the professor would confirm to the admissions board that the department is excited for your potential.
- Ask for a recommendation!
- Send a follow-up email expressing your gratitude for the opportunity to learn more about the professor’s work, program, or research. Express your excitement in a future at the institution that involves contributing to the department in a meaningful way.
Important Reminder: Not all meetings go well. Not every professor will see an appealing candidate in you, and that’s okay. One experience does not determine future ones. Seek out another professor!
- A recommendation from a professor will tremendously increase a college application’s strength.
- When reaching out to a professor, express maturity, respect, and authenticity.
- Get in the habit of reaching out to faculty. It is effective networking! Check out The What, Why, and How of Networking for College Admission for more support with networking skills.
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