Sunday, July 14, 2019 / Kai Chang
Looking at the characteristics of the schools that I received college mail can help us begin to understand some of the motives behind college mail.
But first, we have to look at how colleges get our contact information in the first place. Upon taking any College Board standardized tests, they will sell your personal information to colleges and other programs at 45 cents per name as of July 2019. They’re slated to increase the rate to 47 cents per name this September.
The College Board allows schools to view and filter students by many criteria, so the college mail is at least somewhat tailored for my demographic, which is important keep in mind when looking at the data.
You can opt out to prevent the College Board from selling your information.
In total, I received 674 total emails from 62 schools, for an average of almost 11 emails per school. On the extremes, 13 schools each sent over 15 emails, 8 schools sent under 5, and 3 schools sent only one. One college, Case Western Reserve University, sent me a chart-topping 44 emails.
Using US News’ categorizations of colleges, we were able to look at how much mail we received from each “group” of colleges.
Unsurprisingly, I received the most emails from national colleges, who have the largest pool of students to target. But when you look at the number of emails that I received from local regional colleges (I live in the West), you can see how colleges are targeting students that are more likely to be interested in their college (from a geographical standpoint). I received more emails from Regional Western Colleges than regional colleges from all other regions combined (42 vs 34).
I then looked at how the number of emails a college sends is correlated with their US News’ College Ranking. Their methodology factors in student outcomes, faculty resources, expert opinion, financial resources, student excellence, and alumni giving. However, justifiably, they receive a lot of criticism for being arbitrary and not truly measuring a school’s inherent value, instead rewarding schools that get lots of talented students that are already on a track to success. This makes sense when you consider that the rankings focus very little on qualities like student life and teacher quality.
The way they’re set up is a self-fulfilling prophecy: the higher a school is ranked helps it maintain and increase that ranking by attracting more talented students.
What the rankings truly seem to rank is a college’s prestige and name recognition, which can still be a useful metric to consider when looking at how these schools market themselves.
Using this improved understanding of the rankings, we can split colleges into two main groups. Higher ranked colleges are already well-known and prestigious, and their primary goal in sending emails is to make students feel like the college is interested in them, even if that’s not necessarily true. For lower ranked colleges, though there is some of the same element of making students feel desired, students care less about feeling wanted by a less well-known college. The primary focus of these emails is to inform students of the school’s existence and defining characteristics, and hopefully persuade some of them to apply.
When so much talk of these top colleges is surrounding high-schoolers in the college process, less well-known colleges have to compete harder to be noticed in the sea of college communications.
This can be seen in how colleges that sent between 1 and 10 emails rank noticeably higher than colleges that sent between 11 and 20 emails. (83.32% vs 70.04%) Based on this data, on average, colleges are 0.5% lower ranked (or less well-known) for every email they send.