Want a Leg Up in Admissions? Think like Forrest Gump
If you could channel any movie character as you prepare for college, choose Forrest Gump.
“Forrest Gump?” you might wonder. “Why Forrest Gump? He certainly wasn’t ‘smart’ in the traditional sense of the word.”
Well, apart from the fact that he’s infinitely interesting (who else has run across the U.S. four times and taught Elvis Presley how to dance?) and is eminently quotable (I know you know, “Life is like a box of chocolates…”), he knows how to go after what he wants. Particularly Jenny.
In his pursuit of his childhood love, Forrest is never aggressive. He is polite and persistent. His declarations of love are sincere and direct. And even though Jenny runs away from him time and again, eventually she realizes that she will never meet anyone else who loves her as much as Forrest does, so she finally agrees to marry him.
Well, as you chase your Jenny (or dream school), take those lessons from Forrest. Chase after what you want, but do it in ways that are both thoughtful and impactful.
There are, of course, many ways in which you can declare your love to colleges – maybe not as many ways as Bubba knows how to prepare shrimp – but many nonetheless. To help you figure out what you need to do to get your school to fall in love with you, here are some helpful tips:
Respond to Recruitment Material – Do you remember when Jenny comes to stay with Forrest after his mother passes, but before young Forrest is born? She is asking Forrest for attention. Colleges do the same thing. If a school that you’re interested in reaches out to you, reply. Send back that postcard. Fill out that online survey. Attend that special online event. It matters!
Get on the Mailing List – Like Forrest, don’t just sit back and wait for your Jenny to come to you. Write to her, by filling out mailing list requests. That way, when she’s ready to reach out, she’ll know how to find you.
Learn Each College’s Lingo – If you are sincerely interested in something or someone, know what sets it apart. Does your college offer a Government Department, instead of a Department of Political Science? Make sure you call it by its right name. Forrest certainly never called Jenny “Maggie”. If you don’t do this, it may seem like you don’t know whom you’re courting.
Attend College Fairs and Local Information Sessions – Even in the madness of a political rally on the National Mall, Forrest manages to find Jenny and splash his way across the Reflecting Pool to her side. You need to do the same at college fairs. Look through the crowd to find what you came for. You can discover who your regional admissions representatives are, get their cards, ask questions, and obtain invaluable admissions information. As for local information sessions, there is no searching through a sea of faces, but your goal of standing next to and speaking with that one person who can let you into one of your dream colleges remains the same.
Contact Your Regional Admissions Representative – This is like writing directly to Jenny to ask her questions and show her your sincere interest. Regional Admissions Representatives are the “gatekeepers” and you have to find your way into their hearts. So, introduce yourself, ask well-thought-out questions, and send follow up thank you notes. Don’t forget that Forrest was both persistent and polite, and he didn’t shy away from reaching out to Jenny.
Connect on Social Media – Sadly, Forrest Gump came out before Facebook and Twitter, but if those online platforms had been around, you can rest assured that Forrest would have “Liked” or “Followed” Jenny online as much as he did in real life. He may have even written a nice note on her Wall or retweeted a few of her best quotes. You’re lucky – you can do all of this with colleges’ admissions offices. Just make sure that your accounts are clear of anything embarrassing (remember Jenny’s appearance in Playboy that got kicked out of school?). The last thing you want colleges to see is a picture of you doing something you shouldn’t.
Visit Campuses – Forrest Gump famously hit the road for most of his adult life, stopping along the way to see Jenny as much as he possibly could. Now it’s time for you to embark on your own adventure, but your goal is campus visits. Each time you visit a school, make it clear that you care about whether or not you get admitted. After all, you’ve bothered to leave the comfort of your home to go there. Speak with your regional representative, attend an information session and take a tour.
Apply Early Action or Early Decision – Forrest continually tries to show Jenny that he’s a go-getter and that he’ll be there for her no matter what. That’s what Early Decision communicates to schools. Not only do you finish your materials early, but you say, “I want you and only you.” Early Action functions similarly, but it still lets you play the field, should you choose to do so.
Target Your Supplemental Essays – When Forrest wrote to Jenny from Vietnam, he made sure he shared thoughts with her that he was sure she’d like to know. You have to do the same with colleges. This means you have to know your dream school, what sets it apart, and how you plan to make it happy. Then tell it so.
Interview – When Jenny finally invites Forrest to come visit her, Forrest doesn’t hesitate. He leaves his home immediately to find her. You need to do the same with colleges – even if they say the interview is optional or just “recommended”. Could you imagine what would have happened if Forrest didn’t meet with Jenny? He would have never sat on a bench and told perfect strangers fabulous stories about his lifetime of adventure, nor would he have discovered that he was the father of Jenny’s son. So, the next time you wonder if the interview is necessary, the answer is unequivocally “yes”.
Use Proper Etiquette – I don’t think Forrest knew how to act any other way. He says, “Please” and “Thank you”. He addresses authority figures with “Sir” and “Ma’am”, and he always treats Jenny like a lady. In every way, he’s a gentleman. That’s partially why Jenny ultimately marries him, and college representatives expect the same from you. Not only should you send thank you notes after an interview or informational email exchange, you should also always err on the side of formality. That means opening your emails with proper salutations and an introduction of who you are. Remember, it’s all about being polite, as well as persistent.
Send updates – Even though Jenny didn’t always openly welcome Forrest into her life, she almost always knew what he was up to. Make sure you keep colleges aware of all of your great accomplishments and adventures, even after you submit your applications. Did you launch a successful shrimp boat? Tell them. Did you inadvertently create the ubiquitous yellow smiley face? Make a call to your schools. The hope is that they’ll see how many wonderful things you’re still doing and ultimately let you in.
There’s a lot that we can learn from Forrest’s pursuit of Jenny. First of all, polite persistence can pay off. The more interest you demonstrate, and the more you do it with kindness, the more likely you’ll get what you want – this means both getting in and getting financial aid. Second, humans (including admissions officers) make human decisions, based quite simply on feelings. Even if a college does not actively track interest, every college considers it. So become familiar to colleges, get them to like you, and you, like Forrest, may just get what you’ve been chasing after all those years.