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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