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Does This Scene Look Familiar?

Many seniors have finally sent off the last of their applications, but for underclassmen the flurry of mail is just starting. They receive fistfuls of glossy brochures showing the same happy and diverse group of clean-cut students on the grass under an autumn sky, extolling the virtues of this or that college in strikingly similar terms. Sometimes the brochure is even accompanied by a letter, “personally” addressed to the student, “congratulating” him on his “accomplishments,” and suggesting she is just the type of person they would welcome on their campus. If the school logo says Veritas or Eruditio, does that mean the student has an inside track to Harvard or Duke?

Well, no. Please remember that colleges are businesses – non-profit businesses (to be sure) and with an admirable aim (to be sure), but still businesses. One of their goals is to drum up business in the form of applicants. The more applicants they have, the more they can reject, increasing their selectivity rating and (with luck) their US News ranking. On a less cynical note, colleges also use their mailings to attract a more diverse applicant pool, as well as one that includes more students who will thrive on their particular campus.

Like other businesses, colleges buy mailing lists to reach potential customers. An obvious place to start: paying the College Board for the names of students who opted into the Student Search Service when registering for a PSAT or other test. (Students may opt out of the Student Search Service, but by the time you are receiving junk mail, the damage has probably already been done.) Even test-optional colleges like Bowdoin and Pitzer will buy these names and send mailings to attract high-scoring applicants.

The spam keeps coming electronically, as well. If a student has ever signed up for a scholarship search or “find the right college” quiz or registered to receive on-line essay tips, a marketer has his or her email address (and often a physical address) and can sell it at will. But while a college simply sends snail mail off into the void, and those glossy brochures often end up in the recycling bin (where they belong), the student needs to be a little more careful about deleting e-mail. Colleges can track who opens their e-mail, whether the recipient clicks on any links, and how long he or she spends looking at the information. They use this information an evidence of a student’s interest. If you are interested, or think you might be interested in the future, you would be wise to open and look at any links from these colleges. In fact, actively registering your e-mail address on the college’s website signals your involvement and makes sure you are getting as many points as possible for demonstrating interest.

It can be difficult sorting out the attractions of the 3000 four-year colleges operating in the United States, but students working with a good independent counselor don’t need to rely on the advice of college marketers or the Student Search Service. To avoid wading through print and electronic junk mail in search of the perfect-fit college, just give me a call at 847-660-8625 or click the “Contact Me” button at the bottom of the page.

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