As a high school student in the digital age, the most (or only) snail mail you are going to get will likely come from colleges -- and you might be getting tons of it. So why exactly are you suddenly surrounded by piles of glossy brochures and “invitations to apply" from universities you've never heard of, are not interested in or don't think you can get into? Why is your email inbox being bombarded to the point where you're wondering why such a well-reputed university is getting so spammy?
Actually, there's no big secret surrounding your new pen pal wannabes. It's called marketing.
When you took the PSAT, SAT or ACT, there was a box to check if you agreed to share your mailing address and/or email address with colleges. On the PSAT and SAT, you will be asked if you want to opt into the College Board's Student Search Service, and on the ACT, it's called Educational Opportunity Service. Your mailbox is being bombarded by schools who have paid to obtain your contact information and other info that you provided during the test.
However, the College Board says on its website that if you do opt in to its Search Service, it does not share your exact scores with colleges and scholarship organizations: “By opting in, you authorize the College Board to provide colleges and scholarship organizations with limited personal information. Institutions may use this information to select students within a range of scores, but they do not receive individual test scores, grades, telephone numbers or Social Security numbers."
A few other ways that your contact info got into the hands of colleges: You called or emailed a college, spoke with a college representative at a college fair, visited a campus or filled out a form to request more from a certain college.
Does this mean that the colleges who contact you approve of your test score range and want you to apply? Does this mean that only the colleges who like you are sending you mail? To put it simply — no.
As part of their marketing campaigns (some of which are more aggressive and well-funded than others), schools regularly purchase the contact information of high school students in bulk. Usually, the schools are targeting students who fall into a range of GPAs and test scores required for admission. You may also be targeted by colleges simply because you are located in the same state or region, or because when you took the test you indicated interest in a specific major or area of study for which the school is recruiting.
You should be aware that the main motivation behind these marketing efforts is to attract as many students as possible to apply, even though those “invitations to apply" have nothing to do with an actual acceptance. An article on PBS.org reported that if a college receives a larger number of applicants but remains selective about how many of those applicants are accepted, the college's ranking is boosted.
How to Make It Stop
Sure, it's nice to feel wanted — but when the mountain of mail and a flooded inbox become a serious distraction from your efforts at selecting the college that is truly right for you, how do you make it all go away?
First, you need to take yourself out of the game. To get your name and contact information removed from the College Board Student Search Service database, fill out this form here. To remove yourself from the ACT database, go here. You can also call the numbers listed on the opt-out forms if you have any questions or would rather talk to someone to get your name removed. However, the schools that have already purchased your contact information will still have access to it, even after you opt out. Eventually, by the midst of your senior year, the mailings and emails should slow down in frequency or stop entirely. But if you want to stop it before then, you will have to deal with each school individually.
For unwanted emails, you can usually scroll down to the very bottom of the email and look for an “Unsubscribe" or “Manage your preferences" link that will lead you to a page where you should be able to remove yourself from the school's email list.
If you see no such link at the bottom of the email, simply mark it as spam and that should do the trick. And if you are still getting frequent emails from colleges of no interest to you, you might have to simply call the admissions office and ask (as nicely as possible) to be removed from their email and snail mail databases.
If you have yet to take the PSAT, SAT or ACT, then be sure NOT to check that box that allows your information to be shared with the College Board and the ACT. In addition, be selective when you communicate with schools – only contact schools you are seriously interested in learning more about.
How to Get Even More Mail
This is the easy part. If you do see some merit in the mailings and/or emails you've been receiving from certain schools, then you are about to make an admissions officer very happy. The easiest way to keep those glossy booklets coming is to call the number listed on the mailing and ask for more information about the school. To continue receiving email updates from the school, just don't unsubscribe. If you want to take things to the next level and get more serious about applying to the school, just hit reply and ask for more information.
The most important thing here is to not get distracted. Know the criteria you want from a school before you spend a lot of time reading through the brochure or email that you get from an unknown school. That will help you quickly eliminate the schools that are obviously not a match for you. And last but not least: Don't forget the environment. Recycle those unwanted brochures and envelopes instead of just tossing them into the trash!