Don’t Get Fooled by College Marketing

Written by Lisa Bleich

In the world of highly competitive college admissions, it seems contradictory that colleges would spend so much time and money marketing to students when every article you read suggests that applications are up and competition is fierce.  This is true among highly select colleges (those colleges that accept fewer than 50% of their applicants).  However, in reality only 14% of colleges accept fewer than 50% of their applicants and the rest of colleges accept upwards of 80% of their applicant pool.

Colleges market aggressively because they have a dual purpose.  On one hand they want to create a community of learners, but on the other and more important hand, the need to manage enrollment and rankings.  In fact, the title Dean of Admissions has changed in numerous institutions to Dean of Enrollment Management.  At the end of the day, the admissions office is judged by how well it manages student enrollment and that means managing diversity across multiple variables, athletic, talent, ethnic, racial, geographic, and socio-economic.

Clients often ask me either how did the college get their name or if they received something does that mean anything?  In answer to the first question, when students fill out the rather lengthy application to take any standardized test (PSAT, SAT, or ACT), they fill in what level of classes they are taking, their academic interests, average grades they receive, etc.  Colleges purchase that data and use it to target potential students who they think may be interested in their school.  For the second questions, admissions officers increasingly rely on data analytics and tracking of prospective applicants to determine where to spend their recruiting efforts.  This Washington Post article outlines the process.  They can now track each email you open or ignore as well as where and how you peruse their website.

So, how do you sift through the barrage of materials from colleges and stay in control of the process?

  1. Know What You Want from a College. The better sense you have of what your needs are from college, the more you will be able to discern which schools meet those criteria.  If you see a school that seems to have a lot of what you are looking for, then it makes sense to pursue it further, even if you were not aware of it before.  If, however, the school is totally off base, then you can confidently ignore the materials.
  2. Take Advantage of Open Houses, Overnights, or Regional Visits.  For colleges that you are interested in, going to regional meetings or visiting campus during special events is a great way to get a sense of the college and determine if it’s a good fit.  It will also help you write the Why X College? Essay in a more meaningful way.  Also many colleges keep track of “demonstrated interest” and use that in their admissions decisions.
  3. Remember that college match is two-way street.  Try to read through the glossy brochure and PR events to see if the college is a place where you can see yourself for the next four years. It is easy to be swayed by others into applying to certain schools, but stay true to your academic, social and financial needs and you will make the best choice for you.

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