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Articles / Admissions / Getting In: Good News in Fun Ways

April 26, 2020

Getting In: Good News in Fun Ways

So how will your good news arrive? Of course, I'm talking about getting the “You're in!" message from your first-choice college, or at least most of the colleges to which you applied.

Our family had the pleasure of seeing one of the more famous acceptance notifications back in December of 1994 when our son got his “Yes!" letter from Princeton University. It was kind of a curve ball, though. He applied Early Action to be a member of Princeton's Class of 1999. He also applied to three other schools (yes, those were the days before sending out 20 applications was no big deal) and had not yet heard from them.


Anyway, back in October 1994 when he was waiting to fill out his Princeton application, he got word from Princeton that their applications (paper, not electronic) would be delayed because of a printing error. Of course, that upped the angst ante by putting the squeeze on time. The deadline for applying remained firm at November 1. So, he waited, somewhat impatiently, for the corrected application to arrive.

He worked hard on it and sent it back, completed, a week before deadline. Then the wait.

Princeton's Dean of Admission back then was the legendary Fred Hargadon, who oversaw each year's applications meticulously, adding his personal review and approval of each one. Those were the days when the members of Princeton's incoming class were known as “Fred's Kids."

Others in our son's high school class who had applied early had already received their acceptance decisions by December 15, some a week sooner. Our son ended up being the last member of his class to get an early decision. It arrived December 20.

You may be wondering how I can recall the exact date from over across more than two decades. Well, it was an event our family will never forget.

At first, when my wife picked up the mail that day, we thought the news was not good, according to the looks of the tiny, thin envelope, which was about the size of a postcard. We didn't think our son would be denied outright, but we didn't want him to have to endure the drawn out agony of a deferral. So, we waited for him to come home from school and open his admission news.

He came in, looked to the kitchen table, where we placed his mail, and without comment picked up the small envelope sporting the Princeton logo, and headed for his room. It seemed like hours passed before he emerged but it was only minutes. He came out, letter in hand, and calmly said, “Well … I'm going."

Yikes! My wife and I jumped with joy and embarrassed our always low-key son. A quick group hug sent him back to his room for what we imagined were phone calls to friends, but may have been a session of video games to decompress.

The Fred Letter was short and to the point. The example above is signed by the acting admission dean who took over after Hargadon retired. It got right to the point. At the very top, in a single, large, exclamation-pointed word simply said, “Yes!" That's all applicants wanted to see. The rest of the text was brief and congratulatory.

There was also enclosed a small response card, to be filled out and returned by May 1, indicating the applicant's decision about whether or not he would be enrolling at Princeton as a member of the Class of '99. We were confident that not many of these cards conveyed a negative decision.

A story I saw on the Web the other day started me thinking about college acceptance notifications. In Colleges try to woo students with hand-delivered acceptance letters, I learned that sometimes getting into college can be like winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. You've probably seen the TV commercials for PCH, where they walk up the driveway with cameras rolling, clutching balloons, flowers, and one of those huge cardboard checks for the winner. Wheaton College in Massachusetts must have used this for their model:

The visitors walking up her family's driveway mystified Maya Wolf. Four wore blue jackets. One was in a lion mascot costume. Then, as it clicked, she reached to her mouth in surprise

“Congratulations on your acceptance," said one of the men, who introduced himself as Grant Gosselin, the admissions dean for Wheaton College. He handed Wolf an oversize white envelope. “We've heard great things about you."

Instead of mailing an acceptance letter, Wheaton College had sent its president, admissions chief, the school mascot and others to surprise the 17-year-old Wolf on Tuesday. At the same time, nine other teams of employees from the Massachusetts school were scattered across New England delivering letters to a total of 75 students. After wiping away tears and catching her breath, Wolf thanked her visitors and beamed for a group photo.

Wheaton's blitz was remarkable in scope, but it joins a wave of colleges that have started to deliver small batches of acceptance letters in the style of a surprise television sweepstakes.

I wondered what other schools have joined in on the PCH-like bandwagon.

For the first time last year, the University of Maryland sent a bus of employees to surprise six students. A month later, the University at Albany in New York brought members of the marching band to one student's home, while the president of Rowan University in New Jersey visited five students. The California Institute of Technology made its first personal delivery this year.

In most cases, the unexpected visits ended up in flashy online videos produced by the schools.

My personal theory about hand-delivering acceptances — the motivation seems fairly straightforward — jibes with Wheaton's explanation:

“The message we're trying to send is that Wheaton is a place that's intensely personal," Gosselin said. “We certainly won't shy away from any exposure it brings, but the No. 1 goal is to help those students."

Apparently, this is a trend:

Experts say the idea is spreading as schools face tougher competition for students. By adding a personal touch, colleges hope to boost the share of students who pick them, known as the yield.

Some schools choose a random sample of students to visit, or limit it by geographic area. Others try to curry favor with top students who are also likely to get attention from competing institutions.

“If a hand-delivered acceptance letter gets a college a leg up on the chance of being able to enroll that student and capture the yield, they're going to do it," said Phillip Trout, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. …

… Amid the scramble to attract more students, other aspects of the admission process are changing, too. Even the standardized letter, once a simple finale to an anxious wait, has gotten a glitzy update at many colleges.

Iowa State University sends customized videos to accepted students, starring a news anchor who congratulates them in a mock TV broadcast. Others send boxes of merchandise, or mail out letters weeks earlier than in the past, hoping to reach the best students first. …

This sent me on a research mission to explore some other acceptance notice devices that colleges are using these days. Check these for some more fun.

I thought that you might be interested in reading about some of the ways colleges send out their good news. Keep in mind that small, thin envelopes don't always mean bad news.

Your news will be arriving any day now, if it hasn't already landed in your mailbox or inbox. So, here's to success and a big fat YES! for you!

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Be sure to check out all my college-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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