The College Search: Unsolicited Brochures

Brochures that flooded our mailbox during our child's college search.

May 12, 2010 7:35:57 AM PDT
I'm not sure how these people get the addresses, but you can rest assured that by the time your son or daughter is nearing the end of their junior year in high school, you will already have begun compiling a nice, little collection of introductory letters and brochures from various prospective colleges and universities. By early autumn, you may need one of those big wicker baskets to contain all of this stuff. If your kid is particularly studious, you may require two.

The come-ons will come from schools you've heard of, some you've sort of heard of, and some you've never heard of, all reporting that a review of your child's academic records suggest that your kid is exactly the sort of student they're looking for. This can be pretty exciting when the letterheads include the names of exclusive, big-name learning institutions.

I hate to be a party-pooper, but I've been advised by some high school guidance counselors that in reality, these optimistic letters mean nothing. Keep in mind that colleges and universities are in grave competition with each other, especially in an era where families dealing with a tight economy are taking a harder look than ever at college costs and value. Many college admissions offices cast wide nets in an effort to maximize the chances of filling all their available seats each autumn. And so, they spend tons of money to acquire lists of rising juniors and seniors in areas where they typically recruit, and then unleash a flood of mail. The mailings are so non-specific, in fact, that it's not uncommon for a student to receive information from, say, a technical school, even though their obvious strength and interest is in the liberal arts, or theater.

Marketing strategy

Another lesser understood incentive behind these mailings has to do with competitiveness. One of the ways colleges and universities market themselves is by how many applications they receive. Universities like to point out a high level of interest in their campuses each year, and how few of the applicants are actually accepted. A large number of applicants coupled with a relatively small percentage of admissions gives an impression of exclusivity which can make a college seem a cut above the others. In some cases, this exclusivity is hard to deny. Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard will always have an abundance of applicants and a very small acceptance rate, and those numbers probably do tell an accurate story. But it's instructive to realize the psychology behind the mailings, before you get carried away by anything particularly suggestive in those introductory letters.

On the other hand, it's possible to get a bead on some schools you may not have considered, by paging through the brochures. I'd save them, too, even if a particular school doesn't seem like a good fit at first. You may be surprised when a certain college's name pops-up later on as a possibility, and it's nice to have some material at your fingertips to familiarize yourself with the school.

MORE COLLEGE SEARCH ARTICLES: Submitting Applications, When Will I Hear If I'm In?, Wait List, When Must I Decide?, What If I Have Trouble Deciding?, Merit Aid, Need-Based Aid, Federal Need-Based Aid, Can I Ask For More Aid?, 529 Savings Accounts, Myths About The Cost, What Is Upromise?, The Best Way To Pay, College Troubles, College Depression, NCAA Athletics, Athletic Scholarships, The College Search Preface

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