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Articles / Applying to College / Do Unsolicited Emails From Colleges Mean the Schools REALLY Want You?
Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Dec. 10, 2018

Do Unsolicited Emails From Colleges Mean the Schools REALLY Want You?

Do Unsolicited Emails From Colleges Mean the Schools REALLY Want You?
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I received two emails this week from colleges asking me to apply to their schools. One of them gave me a code to waive the application fee. My parents are saying "They must REALLY want you" and are encouraging me to apply. These are not schools that interest me. How would these schools know they "really want me" if they haven't seen my scores and grades yet? Should I apply? I have already applied to five schools and have gotten into one, but I haven't heard from my first choice yet.

When high school students receive unsolicited mail from colleges — including application fee waivers — these should be viewed as invitations to apply but not as an indication that acceptance is likely. If applications go up at any college or university, it means that the percentage of admitted students usually goes down. And both of these factors can help an institution appear more selective, and thus potentially to rise higher in popular rankings. So colleges can spend a lot of effort (and money) to encourage students to submit an application ... including those students who had never previously considered doing so.


When high schoolers take standardized tests (PSAT, SAT, ACT ...), the registration forms include an option giving colleges permission to make contact. So the colleges that emailed you probably got your name from a test registration. College enrollment officials pay for lists of students who meet certain criteria that interest them. These criteria could be fairly narrow (e.g., foreign language majors) or more general (any student who scored above a certain cutoff or who reported a specific GPA). The colleges do not see your actual test scores; they only receive your name if you meet their stated needs.

Even the most hyper-competitive universities — the ones that turn away dozens of applicants for every one they admit — use this “search" service to mine for additional candidates, and they are known for sending mail to students who ultimately have little chance of good news. But once such mail shows up (and these missives can include not only email but sometimes pricey snail-mail publications with enticing photos), teenagers — and especially their parents — are likely to say, “Let's take a closer look at this place. They obviously really want you!" (Sound familiar? ;-) ) If you do meet specific institutional needs (like the aforementioned language majors), this may give you a little boost in the selection process, yet it certainly isn't a guarantee of acceptance.

So “The Dean's" advice is this: Read more about these schools — especially the one that has waived your application fee — but only apply if you change your mind and realize that it's actually a great fit. If you continue to be uninterested in these colleges, don't give them another thought -- because in spite of their seemingly eager outreach, they may not truly want you any more than you want them!

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Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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