High school: a time of seemingly endless youth; a time to develop your abilities; a time to truly discover who you are as a person.
It’s also a time when your inbox practically malfunctions from the abundance of college-marketing materials.
You’ve probably asked a hundred times: Why did I get a postcard from that college? How did they get my email address? Well, despite how it may seem, colleges aren’t picking your name out of a hat or mailing materials to every living creature on earth.
“We’re not just trying to bring in a number,” said Christopher Coons, associate vice president of enrollment management at Mercyhurst University. “Schools are reaching out to students that they feel are going to be successful graduates. … We want to make sure they’ll fit in.”
But how do colleges get this information in the first place? Back when you took the PSATs, there was a question where you could opt in to hear from institutions. Many students check this box without a second thought, so don’t worry — these schools aren’t creeping on you. You agreed to hear from them through the PSATs or from other methods like an inquiry card at a college fair.
So now you know how they found you — what about the why? For many schools, the initial contact with students depends on a range of things: academics, potential major, geography and other factors.
“Sometimes students think that when a college is sending them information, that means they’ll be admitted,” said Tom Weede, vice president for enrollment management at Butler University, noting that schools have very limited information about students when they contact them initially.
During these tough times, university marketing departments aren’t exactly swimming in the big bucks. So if they send something to you — especially in the mail, since that’s more expensive — that means they think you’ll be a great fit, at least given what they know about you so far. But as Weede said, “That introductory piece of mail is just the tip of the iceberg, and it certainly is not a way to explain everything about a school.”
That’s why colleges enhance their print initiatives with Internet presence. Additionally, colleges want to be as green as possible.
“Students are so environmentally aware, so we don’t want to seem like a university that’s wasteful,” said Julie McCulloh, dean of admission at Gonzaga University. “[We] want to make sure every message … has a purpose and is not wasted.”
The best way to search for schools is to go where you are already: the Internet. Check out each institution’s website, visit social media pages and use college-search websites. If you’re a true fit for the school, it will try to connect with you online using browser cookies and targeted ads, so don’t be surprised if you see its logo popping up throughout your Web surfing. And colleges know that wherever teens go, their phones aren’t far behind — so expect mobile marketing to pick up in the future.
“Mobile technology has forced us to catapult our thinking,” said Molly Wilson, assistant vice president for university marketing and strategies at the University of Dayton. With regards to social media, Wilson added, “It’s supposed to be an engagement tool, not just an information dissemination tool, which I think is what a lot of higher education has done in the past. Now we’re rethinking about how we can be authentic in using those tools.” Institutions’ Facebook pages are worth a “like” because, as in Dayton’s case, schools have new tools that enable them to provide things such as contests and quizzes for Facebook users.
With increased engagement and response on the Web, colleges are creating true online communities for current and potential students. For example, Coons said Mercyhurst will reach out to students in a particular geographical area if the hockey team is playing a game nearby, enabling students to learn more about a school without traveling too far.
These glossy brochures, fun Facebook groups and more all help students in one very important task: conducting research. Know what characteristics you want in your school and what majors you want (or at least don’t want). This will make the bombardment of materials easier to absorb, whether it’s deleting an email from a college that’s too far or keeping a brochure from an institution that has your uncommon major. And don’t forget to keep an open mind; if you haven’t heard of the school, don’t dismiss it — that college just might be the perfect one for you and your goals.
As for the future, there will likely be continued integration of print and online material, along with an increasingly easy and accessible college search and admission process. So the instant gratification of quick, clickable access that the college-bound generation has come to know and love will likely be available in college admission.
But never underestimate the most powerful marketing: visiting the college in person. Though virtual tours and websites are great, there’s no substitute for an actual campus tour, said Robert Melaragni, dean of enrollment management at Fisher College.
Julissa Jimenez, coordinator of external relations at Fisher, said she has told students, “We know what we’re doing. We make the brochures very pretty on purpose. [But] don’t take that for what it is — come visit us. … It’s potentially your home for the next four years, and it’s a major investment, so you want to be sure you’re making the most informed decision possible.”
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