by Ian Fisher, former admissions officer at Reed College
Why am I getting so much mail from colleges?
If you have taken a national standardized test in the last few months and checked the box allowing colleges to send you materials and publications, you’ve probably felt your inboxes swell with electronic and print publications over the last few weeks and months. Don’t worry, swelling is normal and will die down in a couple of years. Nonetheless, with a sudden affliction of this variety, families will have questions. Let’s diagnose the phenomenon together.
Does getting mail from a college mean they are interested in me?
No. It means they’re interested in something about your scores or demographics. In the early stages of the admission process (sophomore and early junior years), colleges are just looking to initiate student interest within target groups. Admissions offices purchase contact information for students in particular groups who score between particular ranges on national standardized tests. College X might want the information for every student in the Western United States who scores between 50 and 70 on the reading section of the PSAT; University Y might ask for girls whose math scores exceed 30 on the ACT. In the end, a very small percentage of these students will turn into active prospects and even fewer will turn into real applicants. You’re being targeted because you are from a certain demographic, but not because of who you are. They simply couldn’t know details about your academic career at this point.
Should I respond to mail from colleges?
You can, but you shouldn’t feel that you have to. If you’re getting an email or a mailing it’s because you’re a part of a targeted group. (Note: there’s no way to know how big the group is, but you can assume there are many thousands of other students getting the same mailings you are.) If you decide you’re interested in a school, you can send a request for more information either through completion of a paper interest card or a web form. This makes you an “active prospect,” demonstrates some interest in the college, and will ensure you receive even more mail.
Will this ever stop?
Of course! Nobody stays in high school forever, at least outside of the characters in Dazed and Confused. Mailings will die down by the time you get to the midpoint of your senior year. If you want to be removed from a college’s mailing list, look for “unsubscribe” links at the bottom of your email (colleges are required to include these, as are other mailers), and make good use of the recycling bin for paper content.
What should I look for?
Good question! Keep in mind that colleges could be sending you some really cool stuff if you pay attention. I recommend spending at least 90 seconds with each new piece of mail. Look at the photos, read some content. Are their key words or graphics resonating with you? Do they seem to value the same things you value in your education? What is the focus? If you don’t care for a school, you’ve lost just 90 seconds of your time, but if you learn something new and exciting you may have found a gem to add to your list! Develop a filing system that makes sense for you and hold onto the stuff that really makes an impact. As someone who spent the majority of his admission career creating these publications for students, I can say that we put a lot of thought into attracting the right kinds of students with our content. Give a school a fair hearing and it might someday end up at the top of your list. Good luck getting your inboxes under control!