Mail from Colleges

stack of mail from collegesHas the deluge of college mail started arriving in your homeschooler’s mailbox yet? While social media is an increasingly popular way for colleges to market, the familiar glossy brochures filling the mailbox are a tradition that continues. Families are often a bit surprised by the volume of mail and confused about how to interpret the intentions of colleges.

Why Do Colleges Send Out Mailings?
While so often we think about students trying to impress colleges – we need to remember that relationship goes both ways. Colleges want to attract as many high quality applicants as possible. This allows colleges to have greater choice in what students they accept. Colleges need students that present statistically strong profiles (high SAT or ACT scores and high grade point averages). They are looking to create a balanced class with the right balance of scientists, musicians, French majors, poets, and so forth. More applicants makes that job easier. The second reason colleges seek to attract a large number of applicants is to boost their college rankings. Rejecting more students makes a college more selective, which is a factor weighed heavily by rankings such as the US News and World Report.

How Did They Get My Name?
Most colleges buy lists of student names from tests like the PSAT, ACT, and SAT. Students who score higher on these tests may be likely to receive more mail, but most students will get some. If you wish to keep your mailbox empty, encourage your student to select the “no mail” option when they complete their test forms. If your student visits scholarship websites, engages in test prep online, or any other college search related activities their information may end up in databases.

Harvard is Begging Me to Apply!
Often parents assume if their kids are getting mail from Harvard it must be that Harvard is “recruiting” their student. It is important to understand that getting mail doesn’t mean that the student has a strong chance of being accepted or even that they will be a competitive candidate. Last year Harvard accepted just 4.9% of applicants which means the overwhelming majority of students who received mail were not accepted. Stanford accepted under 5% of applicants last year. In order to achieve such a low rate of acceptance, it is necessary to encourage a lot of students to apply. Information is send out based on mailing lists that do not reflect a high degree of knowledge about the student’s admissions chances.

What’s Good About College Mail?
While a full mailbox may not tell you anything about your student’s admissions chances, college mail can be helpful. Applying for college can be a discouraging process for many teenagers. Receiving mail may provide a little ego boost. It is a reminder that colleges need students and there will be schools that want them. Of course, no student should select their college based on a college brochure, but they can be a good way to begin to familiarize students with the range of choices. Advertising may encourage students to think beyond just local schools or big name schools. Mail can be a good way to keep the college conversation going with your teenager. Some teens feel like any discussion about college is nagging and talking about mail may be a more neutral way to get the conversation moving. Looking at the variety of colleges represented in mail may be a starting point to talk about different types of schools and what might be a best fit for your student.


    • Hi Natalie, I suggest you visit the admissions section of the websites of the colleges you are interested in. There will typically be a form you can fill out to ask for more information. This is a great way to let colleges know you are interested.

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