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Jan. 3, 2016

College mail and why it fails

by Ellie Struewing, Online Features Editor
Many seniors applying to college are familiar with the experience of opening up their email to find an inbox full of emails from colleges and universities, each promising a "dynamic campus," "stellar academics" and urging the student to "apply now!" The first few emails of this variety are exciting. After all, who doesn’t want to feel like they're wanted? But after a while, the phrase "We're interested in YOU!" no longer warrants excitement, but rather a roll of the eye and a few clicks to direct the email in to the junk folder instead. Similarly, the stack of paper mail that includes scores of letters and pamphlets from schools desperately trying to stand out often have the opposite effect. But if so much of this mail ends up ignored or in the trash, what's the point?

Colleges and universities should reconsider the storm of mail that they send to students and refocus their efforts (and funding) on more tangible ways to help students see if that school is the right fit for them.
The amount of college mail sent to high school students is unnecessary and overwhelming. Ellie Struewing
The amount of college mail sent to high school students is unnecessary and overwhelming.

Sending one or two emails or a letter puts the school's name on a prospective student's radar. But when five more letters or emails come from the same school over the next few months, it gets annoying and defeats the purpose of the mail. Even the subject lines of the email get bothersome, often referring to students by their first names in an attempt to make the contact seem personalized. 'Are you still there, Susan?", "Did you get our last email, Rob?", "Sam--we still haven't hear from you!" These kinds of emails do nothing to pique the interest of students. If a student does not open an email from a school the first or second time they get one, it's not likely that they will open it the fourth or fifth time.

There are several ways that colleges could optimize the efficiency of their recruiting efforts. If schools spent more time on providing relevant information in their recruiting efforts rather than sending desperate email after email, it would be much more effective. Many students actually voluntarily opt in for receiving mail from colleges when they take the PSAT. It's a good idea in theory, because students have the opportunity to receive mail from colleges and universities that they have not heard of before. But when the same colleges send letter after letter, saying essentially the same exact things, that valuable chance of discovering the perfect college gets harder and harder.

Colleges should develop a clear message, think about what information they want to give to the students, and then find a way to present that information in a concise and helpful way. Every college is different, and their emails are a chance to present that – but that doesn't mean being repetitive. It means getting rid of the silly diction about how a school is better than every other school, and presenting students with the facts and information they need instead. And that information most likely does not require more than an email or two. If a school really wants to stand out, they should do so by not reusing the same old techniques ("your future starts here! "), but by being honest. What most students really want to know are things like how much a school going to cost, what majors or programs are available, and how big and diverse the school is. If a student must flip through pages and pages of unnecessary information to find those simple things, that school is not likely to stand out in a good way.

Students should also be informed of what checking that little box on the PSAT means. Many students indicate that they want to receive college mail without really understanding what that means, and it becomes the catalyst for the storm of pointless mail. Teachers should clearly explain the options so that students who want to receive information about schools can take advantage of the opportunity and those who already know where they want to apply or are not interested can opt out.

In addition, if schools didn't spend as much time sending mail, they could find other more valuable uses for their money and resources--uses that may actually help them recruit more prospective students. In 2001, the median cost to recruit one new student to a four-year private institution was $2,185 and $457 for a four-year institution. The time (and trees!) that go into sending mail could be redistributed to help other admissions tasks that are more valuable. For example, actually getting representatives out to high schools around the country to meet with students, participate in college fairs and conduct informational sessions and interviews. Many schools boast of a personalized education with accessible professors and faculty. The best way to show that personalized approach would not be through the mass production of brochures and letters that most people don't look at unless they were previously interested in the school, but through actual connections and conversations. Seeing that a school is invested in their prospective students and cares about answering their questions is much more compelling to students than an email full of broad statements and glittering generalities.

Many schools boast of being "green" institutions, with a passion for keeping their campuses environmentally friendly. But the amount of paper that is used to send out mail to prospective students tells a different story. Once again, many schools fail to think about quality over quantity. Filling up a ten page packet with full color photos on expensive thick paper and a glossy cover and sending it out to thousands of students is a huge waste of resources when one piece of paper with the statistics that people actually care about would work just as well.

The way that college recruiting mail is currently distributed is wasteful and ineffective. For a few people, it may that email or letter from a prospective school that catches their interest and may help them choose a college. But for many others, it's just another unread email. In order to streamline the mailing process and make it more helpful and effective, schools should make sure to emphasize quality over quantity. In addition schools should think about how they are using their time and resources and make sure that it is in line with their values.



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