The college shell game

The cost of Higher Education continues to spiral out-of-control, but something else sent me on a rant this week: the games college admissions offices play to entice students to campus. In particular, I write about some of the crazier emails my son has gotten.


My son has never stepped foot on the University of Vermont campus, but I’m making a strong pitch for him to apply to the school for admission in the fall. I’ve been promoting the proximity to Burlington, the benefits of a huge 450-acre campus, and the school’s lengthy list of majors.  

Why my interest in a school that I’ve never stepped foot on or paid much attention to before a few weeks ago? Perhaps, the distinction of being one of the oldest universities in the United States, the growth of the medical department or a close up view of elite college hockey?

Nah, an email from the college to my son hooked me.

Your academic record caught our eye here at the University of Vermont, and I wanted to personally congratulate you on your achievements so far. You’re the kind of ambitious, curious student we’re looking for, and I think you would be a great fit here.”


Just one look

Now before I get too far I should explain that I’ve also been encouraging my son to look at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania too. “Lycoming College offers something you won’t find just anywhere: the opportunity to create your own major tailored to your interests and goals.”

Now how did Lycoming, in the middle of the state, near Williamsport, know that my son, thanks to his broad interests, might be best suited to seek out a college where he could create his own major. “Our world-class faculty are here to help you find your path by identifying your strengths and challenging you to make the connection between your courses.”

I’m hooked. Forget UVM. It’s got to be Lycoming, right?

Umm, maybe.

No, apply here instead

How can he pass up Loyola University Maryland? They seem to know my son and how he likes to put things off. Listen to this: “I’m giving you a second opportunity to discover how your talents will help you succeed, both in high school and when it’s time to apply to college!”

With that note, Loyola offered him a second chance to take their college admissions quiz called: Your Key to Getting In: How to Get Accepted to America’s Best Colleges. “Our faculty are fully committed to your success . . . you’ll graduate knowing that you made the most of your time here and feeling that you’re ready for anything.”


Love is in the air tonight

Oh now I’m really confused. Besides these three schools, a who’s who of colleges and universities have whispered sweet nothings to my son, telling him how wonderful he is and how he would look great on their campus.

Schools big and small, public and private, urban and suburban have sent him enticements. Everyone from the Adelphi University to West Virginia University (sorry no Z schools) have sent him email, expensive printed pamphlets, and reached out to him via his cell phone encouraging him to apply.

I know that I’ve been overwhelmed with the sales pitches sent each day to my son’s inbox. If I’m overwhelmed, I can’t even imagine what my son must be thinking.  

Call me skeptical

Our daughter completed this same process just a couple of years ago, so I’m familiar with the game, but even I have found number of college “love letters” staggering. The number of emails alone seem to have tripled, if not quadrupled. I wouldn’t mind these many passionate pleas if I thought the schools were serious. Unfortunately, I remain skeptical. While many of these schools paint a pretty picture now, I wonder where they’ll be when my son applies. 

My son has worked hard to get good grades and standout in a crowd, but I wonder how many of these schools will still be “calling” when the rubber hits the road, when it turns to early winter and the buyer’s market becomes a seller’s market.

For example, my son somehow got on the mailing list for the University of Chicago. They’ve sent him an weekly email for the past five weeks encouraging him to visit and to apply to the school. And it is a great school. No, scratch that, an excellent school, one of the best in the country. However, the school has one of the lowest acceptance rates in the country, accepting less than 7.9 percent of the students that apply.

Why? Why play with kid’s emotions that way?


Mixed up data 

Beyond mere numbers, I wonder how much some of these schools are really getting to know the students that they’re wooing. If my son were to pick some of the schools making a mad pitch for him, the end result would be horrible for everyone involved. They wouldn’t fit his needs and he wouldn’t fit theirs.

Another example: He’s gotten multiple emails from the University of California Berkley and Swarthmore College outside Philadelphia. Like the University of Chicago, they are great schools, but known for their liberal academic policies. My very conservative son would stick out like a sore thumb (sorry for the cliché, but there’s no other way to describe the funny picture of him on either of those two campuses.)

Questionable motives

So in the end, I’m left to question the motivation by many of the schools spamming my son’s inbox every day. The notes by the University of Vermonts and Lycoming College’s of the world are all very fine. They came across as authentic, but many others make me question their tactics and frankly their ethics. Many of the schools come across as looking to simply fill their  number slots. They’re looking to fill a demand problem. They could just as easily be selling widgets as they are a college education. And in the end, the students are the ones who lose.

So yes, my son will find the right school that fits for him, but it won’t be because of a saccharine-coated email or letter. It will be because the school or whatever option he decides matches his interests and needs.

Of course, if they want to sweeten their offer with something tangible like more scholarship dollars . . . well that might work too. Until then, I’ll believe in these schools when Hell freezes over or pigs start to fly.





One thought on “The college shell game

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  1. Unfortunately higher education has gone corporate, some more than others. Now with the fancy facilities and all the amenities it has come time to pay the bill and its all about numbers. Sad but true.


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