Readers, if we’re ever at the same horse show, swing by my stabling area to say hi. I’ll make it worth your while because I’m the nicest person at the horse show.
Here’s the deal: I love horse shows. As an adult amateur, horse shows are a vacation from my normally hectic life. Seriously. Instead of answering emails and phone calls and going over accounting and travel scheduling and having to write speeches and this blog (all of which I love, mind you), I go to a place where, for three whole days, my sole responsibility is to look after my horse, make sure I’m on time for my ride, and chat with my friends. It’s heaven.
And even if it’s raining or cold or windy or blazing hot with two hundred percent humidity (or all of these things over the course of the same weekend), I have a great time because I’m at a horse show. The seven-year-old kid who still lives in me re-emerges to bask in the wonder that I get to take my favorite horse out to do our favorite sport and maybe win some prizes. It’s fun – and part of that fun comes with being super-friendly to my fellow competitors, the show management, volunteers, and spectators because if I’m having fun, I sure as heck want them to have fun too. (Besides – it’s a regional dressage competition at the local hunt club, not the Olympic selection trials. If we make it a bigger deal than it is, if we snap at each other and complain about the judging or the footing or the weather or the guy who double parked in the loading zone (uncool, sir), we zap the fun and my vacation is ruined.
What have I learned by being the nicest person at the horse show?
It’s good for business.
Yep. When I’m on my horse show vacation, dressed in dirty jeans with a baseball cap covering hair I didn’t get brushed because I had to braid before the sun was up (or my eyes were open), sunburned, hungry, and exhausted, I inevitably run into people who heard about me through a friend of a friend and want to talk about college planning. And because I’m at a horse show and I’m having fun, we always sit down and chat and more often than not, I pick up a new client. And even if I don’t get a new client right there, I may get one down the road or someone from the show might know someone at home to refer to me. Being nice is never a bad business decision when you’re in the sort of highly personal business I’m in.
There’s a point here, students, that pertains to visiting college campuses:
As you pack your bags to head across the country or climb into the car to drive an hour or two away to visit college campuses, you need to become the nicest person on your campus visits. I’m serious. Smile and engage with every single person you meet (put the phone down please); take time to ask the tour guide useful and pertinent questions (the kind that indicate that you’re actively listening to what he or she is saying); and take copious notes during and after the visit. Then (and this is a biggie!) write thank you emails or letters to anyone who went out of their way to make your day special and interesting.
To a certain degree, the college admission process is highly impersonal. Your application consists of your educational history broken down into a series of letters and numbers, your extracurricular activities and letters of recommendation may even be scored in some cases (depending on the institution), and the admission counselor who reviews this information won’t see your smiling face before him or her while reading but instead will see you in file form, either physically (the famous manila folder) or digitally on a computer screen. And while the majority of colleges require that you send an essay to illuminate facets of your personality and character in the hopes of getting around just this sort of cold impartiality and breathe some life into the process, there’s something to be said for that magic moment when the counselor gets to your file in the queue and instantly associates your printed name with either a handwritten (yes, I said handwritten) thank you letter after a particularly stellar visit over the summer or is simply able to match your name with a smiling face in his or her memory when you walked up after the information session, shook hands, made eye contact, and said, “Thank you very much for your time today.”
(As a former admissions counselor at a small liberal arts college, I can still name the students who sent me cards and letters and there was even one who hugged me after his informational interview. Please draw the line at hugging though, students – it walks a fine line between memorable and just plain odd.)
But beyond simply gaining admission to the school of your dreams, being remembered as the nicest person on a campus visit can influence other situations down the line. Perhaps you have a chance to meet the IHSA coach on your visit and you make a wonderful impression with your kind demeanor and thoughtful questions. Later, if that coach must decide between you and another student who didn’t make that same strong first impression for the last spot on the team, you’re the one with the advantage. (Coaches spend so much time with their riders that it’s no wonder they want them to be friendly and polite.) Or maybe you encounter a faculty member who later will select a first-year student to assist with a research project in the first semester and remembers you from your tour or your follow up message of thanks – again, the advantage is yours. Maybe you even find that, after a semester or a year at one school, you’d prefer to be at a different school and choose to transfer. In that case, it’s always best not to have burned any bridges on your way to School A because School B will be far more excited to have you join them if you made a good impression the first time around.
And just like horse shows, campus tours are much more fun if you lighten up and enjoy them and help others to do the same. (Open doors for people if given the opportunity – it’s always appreciated!)