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Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Hearing from Colleges (aka Marketing!)


By Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS, Founder, Celtic College Consultants

Every year, inboxes, mailboxes, and now, phones are barraged by messages from colleges seeking to introduce themselves and interest teens in themselves. For years, the College Board (the PSAT and SAT company), through its Student Search Service, has licensed student names and contact information to colleges. Recently, has used different strategies to make the same sorts of connections between prospective students and colleges.

With the advent of online testing, which will fully roll out during the next school year for the PSAT and SAT tests, the College Board's data will now be subject to new privacy laws which regulate the use of online data. According to Eric Hoover's article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (12 May 2023), the number of student names colleges can license from the College Board is expected to drop by 40%. Students who only take in-school exams (those given by their schools/school district), don't take any exams on national testing dates and who don't opt in to the Search Service will not be accessible to the colleges. Consequently, colleges will have to completely rethink and overhaul their student recruitment strategies.

Perhaps the idea of student recruitment sounds a little foreign to you ears. That's understandable. With the focus on being admitted, many students and their families fail to realize that most colleges are actively recruiting applicants. Most have no idea that the marketing materials they receive are tied to the tests that the student has taken. In fact, colleges have been able to license student information, and to set the criteria for the data they desire. For example, a college can contract for all male students in a given state (or zip code) with a score in a particular range, and an indication of certain majors. Because of this, there is often some correlation with the student's interests which makes students feel recruited, feel wanted, and get the idea that the college wants them and will accept them if they apply. Such efforts have included pre-completed applications, application fee waivers, and other strategies. 

Colleges are businesses. As such, each needs to enroll a certain number of students and collect a certain amount of revenue from them in order to continue to operate. Additionally, with the rise of the ranking services, which consider low selectivity (percentage of applicants who are accepted) as a factor, increasing the size of the applicant pool is in the college's best interests. At times, some colleges have solicited applicants from students they know they are very likely to reject, solely to increase their rankings and, in turn, attract more affluent applicants, which will increase the college's bottom line.

The College Board is creating a new recruitment tool called Connections. Starting in Fall of 2023, students taking school-day exams will be asked to share their cell phone numbers with the College Board. They will then be sent a link to download an app onto their phones. The up side for students is that they will be able to use that app to get their test scores as well as some general advice about applying to college. They can also opt in to Connections, to see profiles of colleges. Students can further choose to share their personal information with a particular college or university. This is a huge shift and is likely to net significantly fewer potential students than the current system.

Projections show that a 38% drop in the number of available student names will happen over the next four years.

Despite test optional policies, affluent families still tend to have their students take the ACT and SAT. Top scores on these tests tend to correlate to families with the wherewithal to hire tutors and/or take test prep courses. Students from affluent families tend to pay more for college than those with financial need. Therefore, those students tend to be highly desired by colleges, especially schools more dependent upon tuition revenues. is a new online tool which is a bit like LinkedIn. Students make profiles then are able to accept connections from colleges interested in them. It offers students yet another way to connect with prospective colleges. It also makes it possible for students to connect with college consultants. It, however, does not provide a comprehensive, student focused, college prep, selection, and application mentorship service like I do and my fellow professional college consultants do.

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