One of the best ways to learn more about colleges you’re interested in applying to is by talking with current students and learning from their experiences.
However, it can be difficult to find current students to talk to and get honest accounts of what life looks like on campus.
This article will go over how high school students who are planning on applying to college can reach out to current college students and hear about their experiences.
A typical day lounging in Harvard Yard in the fall
Before we go over the strategies to find high school students to learn from, consider doing some reflecting about what you want to get out of the experience of reaching out to current college students.
Questions to Ask Current College Students
Some questions to consider asking include:
- What factors are most important to you when you look for a university?
For example, how important is it to you to be near a city? Do you want to go to school where everyone lives on campus or is that not as important to you?
- What are some questions you want to ask current students?
It’s oftentimes helpful to enter conversations with a set list of questions to get the conversation flowing!
- What do you plan to get involved in on campus?
The activities you get involved in on campus will likely influence who you spend your time with. Consider what clubs you might want to get involved in on campus and try to connect with students involved in similar activities.
Method #1: LinkedIn
Reach out to current students on LinkedIn by first searching the name of the club you might be interested in joining on campus.
Next, scroll through the LinkedIn members who are part of the club.
To reach out to students and have a brief conversation, consider thinking through a few factors first to optimize the likelihood that someone will get back to you.
First, try to find students who are from your hometown or close to where you grew up. A college student might be more likely to share their experience on campus if you have something in common, and hometown is an easy similarity.
Second, look for students who are studying a discipline you are also in. If you end up connecting and having a conversation, it might be easier to have a conversation about shared interests.
This relates back to my earlier point about reflecting on what you want out of the experience. If you’ve spent the time reflecting on the question you want to ask and what you want to get out of the experience, it’ll be easier to have a more genuine and honest conversation.
Method #2: Instagram
Another option to connect with current students is through Instagram. There are a few different ways to find and reach out to people on Instagram: extracurricular Instagram profiles, conference locations, and geotags.
First, many extracurriculars have their own Instagram profiles where they post updates about their membership events and pictures.
Usually clubs have social media managers who regulate the account and would likely help connect you to students in the club.
Second, if you’re interested in an extracurricular on a campus that holds conferences or events, try to find a hashtag for the event and reach out to the organization’s Instagram or people who were at the event.
For example, the Harvard Undergraduate Women in Business (HUWIB) organization holds the annual Intercollegiate Business Convention (IBC). If you were interested in joining HUWIB, you could go to the location of the convention and reach out to people who attended the event.
Finally, you can also go to the college geotag location on Instagram and reach out to people who are students.
It’s best to keep outreach messages short, clear, and upbeat to increase the chance that the student will get back to you.
Method #3: Campus Visit + Meet Real Students
The third method of reaching out to college students is contingent on if you can visit the college in-person.
Sunset from Harvard Yard
If you can’t visit the college in-person, there are lots of great resources that you still have access to.
Many colleges have virtual campus tours and information sessions with current students. Many current students also make YouTube videos talking about their experience at different colleges.
Some great college YouTubers to check out:
- The Kath Path from Stanford
- Paris Boswell from the University of Wisconsin Madison
- Katherout from USC
- LifeWithLaur from Dartmouth
- Nicolas Chae from Princeton
- Elliot Choy from Vanderbilt
If you are able to visit the college in person, it can be helpful to sit on a bench in the center of campus and observe the students walking around. It can be helpful to respectfully approach students and ask them about their experience, but be sure to keep in mind that college students are often extremely busy and might not have a lot of time to answer your questions.
A few locations that are good options for places to sit and observe current students include:
- The student center
- A few of the dorms
- Classroom buildings
- The library
- The dining hall
It can be helpful to have a few questions in mind if you decide to approach students so as to avoid wasting time. Remember to respect student’s times and take rejections graciously.
Method #4: Reach out to Admissions Officers
Another option is to reach out to the admissions office directly. There are a few benefits and a few drawbacks to this approach.
Benefits of reaching out to the admissions office
- Admissions officers will be able to share a wide range of resources, from presentations to flyers and student testimonials
- Since admissions officers connect with students every day, they will likely respond to your inquiries quickly and share high-quality information
- It might take longer for students to get back to you because they have a lot going on with extracurriculars and classes
- Speaking with admissions officers might count as demonstrated interest for some schools who look at student interest as part of the admissions process
Drawbacks of reaching out to the admissions office
- The admissions office will connect you with the students that they want you to talk to
- The students who choose to work with the admissions office likely have a high opinion of the school
- In this way, it might be challenging to get a fully accurate picture of the student experience
- Most of what students share and what admissions officers talk about is likely the positive elements of the college experience and it might be harder to get an accurate picture of some of the less-rosy elements of going to a certain school
Method #5: Hometown Resources
One final option for reaching out to current students is to connect with alumni organizations in your hometown.
This is probably easiest for state schools where many alumni likely live nearby after graduation and schools that have clubs in large cities.
In terms of state schools, ask your friends and family if they know anyone who went to a certain school and ask about their experience.
Remember that colleges can change over time, and an experience twenty years ago will not necessarily be consistent with an experience today.
Many Ivy League colleges have clubs in large cities and states. If you’re interested in applying to Ivy League colleges, you can find contact information for each club on their websites.
And if you can't find anyone, we have plenty of Ivy League students on our team who'd be happy to chat. Feel free to grab a free consultation slot here to learn how we can help you on your application journey!
These five methods of reaching out to current students are by no means mutually exclusive.
Consider combining two or more of these approaches to reach out to current students and learn from their experiences.
And keep in mind that one student’s experience will not necessarily be your experience!
Take everything you hear with an open mind and be sure to ask multiple people similar questions to get different points of view!
When I was applying to college, I found visiting campus in-person and reaching out to alumni in my hometown to be the two easiest methods since I live near Boston, which is where Harvard is located.
I suggest figuring out which methods feel most natural and comfortable to you and starting there. Depending on what works and who gets back to you, you can always adjust your approach accordingly.
Remember to stay persistent, but respectful, and get the questions you have about the college experience answered! Best of luck!