Yes, colleges are emailing you. That doesn’t necessarily mean they want you.

If you have taken a PSAT, SAT, ACT or Advanced Placement course, you are probably getting inundated with brochures, letters, and emails from colleges. They often say that they think you are a good fit for their school and encourage you to visit, learn more or apply. Take these messages with a grain of salt.

There are many magazines and websites that rank colleges. They often use a school’s admit rate, the percentage of applicants that are admitted, to determine if the school is selective. The admit rate, combined with the ACT/SAT range, gpa range, graduation rates and other factors also influence rankings. Colleges are concerned about their rankings because it attracts students, donors, quality faculty and staff as well as creates opportunities for students to be recruited by companies and admitted to strong graduate programs. As a result, many are trying to drive up applications to create a bigger and “better” class each year. So they market broadly–including to students who may not be admissible.

Colleges can license your data from the testing agencies to market to you. They use test score ranges, gpas, geography, high school type, race, gender, and major as criteria to create their data files. One or multiple of those factors gets you pulled into that list. Some schools cast a wide net–pulling in scores slightly lower than they admit–assuming you might retest and score higher. Some schools cast a wide net because they want to drive up applications to be able to select from a more diverse pool–not just ethnically diverse but also geographic, majors, gender, etc. Some cast a wide net to be able to deny a large part of their applicant pools (and I dislike these schools especially).

What is hard for students is how to tell which are actually interested in you, and which are just stringing you along. I recommend to my clients to read the material and if a school seems interesting, google {school name} common data set. Every college that accepts federal financial aid must report to the Department of Education certain statistics. Admission statistics are part of that report. You can see the middle 50% of admitted students’ SAT/ACT score (this excludes the bottom 25% which may often be athletes and legacies, and the top 25%). If you fall in the range, its worth exploring and applying. College Board also publishes some of this data on their Big Future website. Some schools also report their admitted gpa ranges to DOE (and Collegeboard). The stronger you match their stats (gpa, test scores, preferred high school coursework), the more likely you will be admitted. But applicant pools change each year based on a variety of factors from winning national sports titles to improved rankings or great press. Admission is never guaranteed unless the college is an open enrollment school.

If you are interested in a school, and are a good match, respond to the emails. If they ask you to click a link or download a form, do so. If an admissions counselor calls or texts you, respond. If a student calls to see if you have questions, ask them some. They track it in their database. Some schools want to see “demonstrated interest”–that you have visited, read emails, visited their website, interacted with students and staff. Some people worry that if you show too much interest they will know you want to attend and low ball your scholarship–probably not. And you can always negotiate, or wait to deposit. Last year, many (but not all) schools offered additional aid right around the May 1 deadline to try and meet their enrollment goals.

I wish admissions wasn’t such a game or puzzle. It shouldn’t be. But it is. I had students this year denied by schools because they were too strong a candidate–the college was protecting its yield rate (the number of admitted students who decide to enroll–another factor used by rankings). I had students admitted to schools that were a reach. Test-optional admission has made this all more complicated (but most students admitted to highly selective schools still submit SAT or ACT scores). Find schools where you will be admissible, but more importantly where you will be happy, can afford, and will exit with the job or grad school admission of your dreams.

If you need help creating a list of schools and determining whether or not to submit your test scores, we are happy to help. Coffman Consulting is still taking a select number of 2022 graduates applying to rolling admissions schools and several more 2023 graduates ready to begin their college search. We can also help freshmen and sophomores with course planning, identifying extra curricular activities and other steps to be college ready and a successful applicant.

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

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