James Bond Nothing: The Secret Life of a Stealth College Applicant

Are you a stealth applicant? In today’s high-tech, on-demand, online world of click-touch-swipe, college-bound teens see themselves as web-savvy college researchers navigating the path to their academic futures. Some college admissions officers, however, see them differently.

Stealth applicants are one of the best kept secrets in college admissions. In fact, stealth applicants are so off-the-radar that even the students don’t realize that they are a secret.

stealth applicant

What is a stealth applicant?

According to Helen Williams, associate director for marketing & communications and admissions at Clark University, in Worcester, Mass., a stealth applicant is someone who applies without having direct contact with the admissions office. With stealth applicants accounting for just under half of Clark’s applicant pool, she sees the phenomenon as on the rise.

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For some colleges and universities, this group of college stalkers-turned-applicants represents a bonus pool of prospects. For others, stealth applicants are vying for a seat in a class without ever being invited or making themselves known to the college. That can be a “no-no” especially when the stealth applicant’s application is under review.

Kevin Williams, dean of admissions at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., emphasizes the importance of the relationship between the applicant and the admissions committee:  “At Morehouse, we take a very holistic approach in the evaluation of our applicants. The more we know about prospective students besides their academic profile, the better decisions we can make about our school being a good fit for that prospective student.”

Traditional Non-Traditional Students

LaptopBy tradition, applicants are expected to make themselves known during the college search process. Whether by completing a reply card, attending an open house or info session, going on a campus tour, requesting information through the college’s website, or speaking with alumni, initiating a relationship with the college can make a difference.

At Morehouse, the failure to demonstrate interest or make yourself known prior to applying is a downside. According to Dean Williams, “Stealth applicants generally do not get the opportunity to build relationships with us, which could prove to be important when reviewing an application, especially a borderline one.”

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From websites to YouTube videos to Facebook, there are many ways a prospective student can research, explore or vet colleges without making their identities known to the college. For some students, this approach is intentional as a way to keep their names off mailing lists.

Dean Williams suggests if the goal is avoid being inundated with email or printed college materials, ask the admissions office not send you everything. “The last thing an institution wants is for prospective students to be turned off and lose interest because of over-communication,” he says.

Advice for the (Stealth) College-bound Teen

Colleges want to enroll students who want to be there, and taking the time to be in touch through official channels can make a difference in determining the best fit.  Even if you consider yourself a savvy researcher doing your homework, you may want to reach out on a more personal level and make your interest known.

The initiative to move your research out of the virtual world and into the real world may open the door to better decisions about where to apply and, for the colleges, who to admit.  After all, it’s no secret that a college is more than a web site.

RELATED: Visit campus before you accept an offer of admission

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