How to Get into College Even if You Haven’t Donated Millions and Aren’t Legacy

Sometimes it can feel like the college admissions system is rigged. And if you live in a relatively affluent area of the country or a university town, it can sometimes feel like you’re the only one around who doesn’t have connections.

Tales of millionaires and billionaires buying their children’s entrance into elite colleges can stoke outrage, understandably so.



But here’s how your child can build connections and optimize your admissions chances even if your family doesn’t own a private jet.

Imagine your child is interested in applying for a job. In order to help your child get an advantage over other applicants, you would naturally advise your child to reach out to friends or relations who work at the company and ask them to put in a good word for your child. You would also probably recommend that your child reach out to the person responsible for hiring for the position before submitting an application in order to try to develop an interested and respectful relationship with that person. In other words, you would advise your child to make connections.

It’s no different with college. Who you know can make a significant difference in your child’s college admissions chances. After all, if two students apply to MIT with the same GPAs and the same SAT and ACT scores, and both of those students have written outstanding common application essays and supplemental essays, but only one has the support of an engineering professor at MIT, who has the advantage?

How to build connections and boost college admissions chances

Here’s a step-by-step guide that shows your child how to connect with college faculty members and how to use those connections to maximize admissions chances.

At the end of tenth grade or the beginning of eleventh grade, make a list of 8 to 10 colleges that your child might want to attend based on the academic programs offered. It doesn’t matter if this is the “final” list and it doesn’t matter if you child doesn’t know what she or he wants to major in. But by tenth grade, most students know they are STEM kids or humanities kids and that’s good enough for now. So for example, if your child is interested in history make a list of colleges that look appealing based on that interest.

Next, identify professors at the colleges on the list who work in your child’s areas of interest. Dig deep and try to find professors who have made a significant impact on their area of study and who are assistant, associate, or full-time professors. (Adjunct professors may have moved on by the time you apply.)

After identifying professors at the colleges, your student should contact these professors by email. In the email, your child should introduce her or himself, identify aspects of the professor’s research that look interesting, and briefly state why that research is interesting to your child.

Not sure how to write an email like that? Here’s a fill-in the blank model your child can use.


Dear Professor [insert last name],

I’m a [grade in school] student at [name of school] in [name of city or town and state] and I am interested in studying [subject] at [name of college].

Specifically, I am interested in [specific aspect of subject that interests you], and that’s what drew me to your research and your [book or essay title]. Your ideas about [specific aspect of subject that interests you] really helped me better understand [some aspect of subject].

I know your schedule is busy, but in the hope of deepening my understanding of [specific aspect of specific subject], I wondered if you had ten minutes to speak to me by phone or if you might be willing to field a few questions about your research and my interest by email.

Thank you for considering my request. And thank you for the work you’ve done and continue to do.


[First name, last name]


Once your child receives a reply, your student should prepare list of intelligent questions to ask during the call or in the email. At end of the call or email conversation, your child should thank the professor and ask permission to contact the professor again. As your child’s relationship with the professor evolves, your student should feel comfortable asking the professor about summer research opportunities, internships.

Next, when it comes time to visit that college, don’t forget to contact the professor before you arrive to request in-person meeting and permission to sit in on a class.

Having established and developed a relationship with a faculty member, your child is now in a position to ask for a letter of recommendation from the professor who is now in a position to describe your child’s depth of interest in the field, to compliment your child’s initiative, and describe how well your child’s character and academic interests fit with the college. After all, who better to recommend your child than a respected member of the faculty at that college?

There’s another benefit to making faculty connections before you apply to college. Writing unique school-specific supplemental responses is tougher than writing the common application essay, and the toughest of all is the “Why us?” question. “Why do you want to attend NYU or Cornell or Georgia Tech or the University of Pennsylvania?” Writing “because NYU is in New York City” or “Cornell is a prestigious college” is not going to get your child anywhere. Yet that’s just what most students do. But imagine if your child was able to write a supplemental essay response that describes your child’s relationship with a professor at that college and how that relationship determined your child’s decision to pursue admission to that college? All I can say is, advantage yours.

Ready to get started? Call me.

Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized plan for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and career aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and secure admission to top colleges.  

About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.