The College Search

Getting On College Mailing Lists

Question: I am a high school sophomore and would like to get information from colleges in the mail, including stuff from colleges I don't already know about. How does this happen?

Since you are a sophomore, you probably haven’t taken PSATs or SATs (or, depending where you live and go to school, the ACT) yet. Once you do, you’ll see that the registration form asks you whether you’d like to participate in “Student Search.” If you check “Yes,” you will start receiving lots of information from colleges.


The way “Search” works is that subscribing colleges and universities (of which there are many) ask for the names and addresses of students who meet certain criteria. Those criteria are varied. They include everything from racial background to gender to geographic location. They also include certain cut-off scores, depending on each college and its admission policies.

Thus, once you take the tests, if you check “Yes” on the Student Search question (or the ACT equivalent, which is called “Educational Opportunity Service”), you will be fair game for lots of institutions seeking potential applicants with your interests, background, or abilities. Get ready to buy a bigger mailbox, but keep in mind that—once the publications start to pile up—you have to use them wisely. For starters, it’s important to realize that no matter how encouraging and welcoming (or flattering) college brochures and letters may sound, they are merely invitations to investigate or apply to the schools that send them, and they are never guarantees of admission.

Secondly, remember that often this college “propaganda” is written by marketing experts—sometimes the same folks who try to sell you toothpaste and breakfast cereal—so you need to look beyond the pretty campus pictures and enticing prose to see if a school is really right for you.

In addition, if you’re eager to get more mail from colleges, you can contact any college that interests you by telephone or e-mail and ask to get put on their mailing list. You can also go to Web sites like www.petersons.com. Click on “College Search” and then try the “Detailed Search.” That’s when you’ll answer questions about the type of college that you’re seeking. You’ll then be directed to a list of places that might good matches for you, and many of these will offer you a direct e-mail link. You can use that link to write each admission office a brief message providing your name and home address and asking for more information.

Finally, if you go to the Web site for the National Association of College Admission Counselors (www.nacac.com), you can look for “college fairs” being held in your area. If you attend one of these fairs, you will have the chance to get on dozens—if not hundreds—of mailing lists. In fact, your best bet is to bring a pile of stick-on return-address labels to the fair, if you have them, so you won’t get writer’s cramp from signing up at each school’s table.