Sunday, February 10, 2013

College recruitment letters

An amazing thing happens when your kid takes the PSAT: they start getting mail from colleges. A really LARGE amount of mail from colleges. I don't know whether there's a correlation between your PSAT scores and the number of college recruitment letters a week, since I have only one data point living in my house. Rapunzel did decently but not "OMG, she scored how high??" and she gets about 1 or 2 letters a day. I think she's now heard from almost every private school in the country that isn't Harvard or the like (because, please, they don't HAVE to troll for students....)

And here's the thing: these letter are all Exactly. The. Same. I swear, some marketing firm somewhere wrote one and all the colleges use it with mail merge for their web site. Because they are all bland and content free and exist solely to exhort her to log onto their web site and use their Handy Tool to find out what college would be Best for You! (Why do I suspect each one would tell her that, surprise, THEIR school is the Best for Her?)

And it's not me pointing this out - it's Rapunzel. She is beyond bored by them - she picks them up and says "OMG, another college letter," accompanied by an eye roll. She opens it, reads out the same old same old text in a faux excited tone, and then pitches it in the trash. She's gotten maybe two that were different enough, interesting enough, informative enough to capture her interest for more than 10 seconds. One was Macalister in Minnesota, which used humor to good effect, touting that they had lots of lakes and Indoor Plumbing! (But not, alas, an architecture program). I think the other was the Savannah College of Art and Design, which would be a great fit if only it weren't so damn expensive (and no, they don't do significant financial aid... we checked).

And I wonder - do these letters really engage high school kids? Do they really rush to log onto their websites and use their Handy Dandy Tool to Find the Perfect College for You (Ours)? I somehow doubt it. Which leads me to wonder why colleges don't do a better job with this. It seems like a no brainer to spend a little money polishing up your pitch to make it stand out and convey quickly what's unique about Podunk College, what differentiates you from the rest of the pack.

As for Rapunzel, she'll almost certainly be going to a state school, and they mostly don't send such letters - I think they assume, rightly, that price is their differentiater, and most people don't need a spiffy flyer or letter to know that. That's surely the case here: my husband and others trot out esoteric private schools for her consideration, and my role seems to be to keep repeating "University of [Our State] system." It has become my mantra. Because I don't want to go broke sending her to college, I don't want her to be saddled with crippling college debt, and, here's my final secret, having gone to one of those Big Name We Don't Need to Advertise schools myself back in the dark ages: No One Cares past about the first job interview. After that, they care if you are competent, not what school's name is on your degree. So State U of Somewhere will do just fine, thanks...


  1. Daughter #2 does the exact same thing...if she even makes it as far as reading anything before pitching everything straight into the recycle bin. What a waste of paper and postage.

  2. I actually did look at those things when I was getting them (including one from West Point -- clearly they did not know me personally ;-) I briefly considered schools that I had never heard of before they sent the letter -- but only briefly. And neither of my parents went to college, so they had no experience with which to guide me. So I also have an expensive hot-shot degree, and the benefit of experience. State U is just fine.

  3. The really sad thing is that in another 6 years, when she's graduating from college the question won't be, where are you going to work, but where are you going to grad school because that's the direction things seem to be moving...
    Having graduated from 2 state schools I can say I agree, you're right on target about that!

  4. Megg, she wants to do architecture, which means either 5 yrs from the get go or a masters, so, yeah. Grad school.

  5. My guy likes to get the letters and giggle at them. He did actually go look at some of the sites, but for the most part I think there is exactly one college he wants to go to. And in-state though it may be, inexpensive it is not. :-( And it's supposedly part of the state University system. ouch.