by Kennon Dick, former admissions officer at Swarthmore College
It’s December of your junior year and, all of a sudden, you’re getting mail and emails from all sorts of colleges and universities—some you know, most you don’t.
In all likelihood, the source of this flood was your participation in the PSAT. Colleges purchase from the College Board lists of PSAT-takers that meet specified criteria, including falling within broad range of scores and self-reported GPAs. When my daughter was a junior and filled out the registration for the PSATs, she filled in the bubbles incorrectly and slightly misspelled her first name. The outcome of this typo was that we could pinpoint every mailing that originated from the PSATs. Surprise, surprise—her name was misspelled on the vast majority of mail that she received from colleges.
Some colleges and universities have very sophisticated marketing programs; some even hire outside marketing consultants and mail houses to coordinate all of their mailings and track responses from students. At College Coach, we are often asked the question, “What does this mailing mean?” The reality is that the majority of these mass mailings are an attempt to generate interest from a wider range of students. It doesn’t necessarily indicate that the college is specifically interested in your son or daughter. Sorry to disappoint, but getting an email from Harvard doesn’t mean they are recruiting you or that they think you are an admissible applicant.
If, however, you meet a college admissions officer at a college fair, a high school visit, an interview, or while visiting a university, you may receive an email or note directly from that admissions person. In this situation, it may mean that the college has particular interest in your child. It comes down to this: is this contact a mass mailing that’s generalized in nature, or is it an individualized contact written specifically for your child from a specific person on the admissions staff? The answer to that question will solve the underlying mystery as to whether the college or university is genuinely interested in recruiting your child.
Having said all that, if there is a response mechanism in the mailing or email, clicking on that link will indicate to that school that you are interested in them and that you would like more information about their offerings. For the colleges that you like, it’s a good idea to show them you are interested and click away.