Preparing for College

Bait and Switch: College Style

Anyone out there know a high school junior or senior who got a nice, warm, engaging letter from Harvard? These letters, after a convincing pitch about the joys of Harvard (hey, who needs convincing, right?), usually encourage the high schooler to apply to this prestigious institution, failing to mention the annual single-digit overall acceptance rate that slams the door on over 90% of applicants. Nasty stuff, huh?

Well, a cat has emerged from the bag, so to speak, regarding this sleazy ploy. In a revealing article, "How Colleges Are Using a Cynical Ploy to Appear More Exclusive," Reed College's admissions dean, Paul Marther, explains a bit about this technique that, frankly, I find at least annoying and at most disingenuous. He states:

Prospective students and their parents probably do not realize that many colleges, Reed among them, sometimes contract out the writing of the search letter to direct mail firms skilled at crafting catchy phrases…I suspect that prospective students and their parents wonder sometimes whether admission deans are educators or sales managers. We can seem like masters of the bait and switch.

After you read the article and the "rationale" behind this tactic, ask yourself what you think about this approach to college "marketing." Just be aware of what's going on, in case your high school son or daughter comes running to you some day exclaiming, "Mom, Harvard wants me!"


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.