You have taken the SAT or ACT and scored very well. Now come the viewbooks and letters from the colleges telling you about each college. But, what really gets students excited is the letter from Harvard or Yale or some other very selective college urging you to apply because you are a great candidate for their college.
Wow, the college of my dreams wants me. And everyone said getting into a highly selective college was tough. Not for me! I need to go online and buy that college shirt to let everyone at my school know how talented I am.
Stop. Take a deep breath. While it is exciting to get such a letter from a selective college, you need to understand a few things. First, you are not the only student to get such a letter. Some colleges send out 10,000 or even 100,000 such letters to students around the country that scored at a certain level on a standardized test. And all of them say the same thing; we want you to apply to our college.
The second thing you need to understand is that getting a letter like this will provide you absolutely NO help in getting admitted to the college which sent the letter. Colleges that send these letters do not give bonus points to the recipients if the student applies to that college.
So, why do colleges send such letters out? On a positive side, the colleges are trying to get the word out to students that have certain test scores that they might want to investigate this college. Equally important from the colleges side is that the more students that apply to a college, the more students the college can reject. The more students they reject, the more selective the college. And in one of those odd twists, the more selective the college, the more students want to go there and the greater the perceived quality.
Bottom line is that receiving a letter from a selective college in no way provides you with any advantage in the college admissions process. If it introduces you to a college you did not otherwise know about, great. Otherwise, file it along with the other college materials as you continue the search for the best college for your needs.
what does selective college mean
Todd Johnson says
A selective college is one that does not accept basically all of the students that apply. There are of course huge variations in this from a college that may accept 80% of students vs the college that only accept 8% of the students who apply. The latter is much more selective.
Thanks for the info! I just have two questions: one, how do colleges know what I got on the ACT? Isn’t that information private unless I pay to have my scores sent to them (which I have had to do for several applications already)? Also, what does it mean to be a “top-tier applicant” or “priority applicant” or anything that merits a free application, personalized essay questions and other sort of “bonus package” type deals? Does that mean the college is actually interested in me?
One more question (sorry I’m just very curious!): I’ve received letters from very selective schools like Harvard, Stanford, U of Chicago, NYU, etc all telling me about their English programs. I don’t know how they knew that I’m interested in English, and I’m certainly not qualified in any other aspect besides English to even apply at those schools (I got a 35 on the English part of the ACT and a 25 on math. Yikes.) does it being so personalized for me have any meaning? I’d never want to go to an Ivy, but I’m very confused as to how they know what subject I’m looking into!
Todd Johnson says
When you filled out the information to take the ACT, or SAT for that matter, there was a box you could check that said something like I want to get information from the colleges. That allows the ACT to send your scores out to any college that requests them. Colleges will typically buy test scores with certain criteria. For example, all composite scores above 29. Or all English scores above 30. Many colleges buy literally millions of scores this way. You are getting letters from colleges that saw your strong English score and based on that alone sent you a letter. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of students, these letters mean absolutely nothing and most students will not have a chance at the highly selective schools like Harvard. But the colleges want to increase the number of applications so that they can reject more students so that they look more exclusive. Not a good game.
As for the “top tier applicant” or “priority applicant”, again the goal is to get students to submit applications but this approach is usually used by less selective colleges. At some colleges you may indeed be a top tier candidate based on your test scores while at others you may not have a good chance at all. Look to see what the typical types of test scores that the college accepts and if you are above that number, you may be a good candidate.
The bottom line is that all of the letters you are receiving are marketing efforts from the colleges. Some may be sincere while others less so. You should consider these letters but I would never let such a letter decide whether you are going to apply to a particular college. If it puts the college and your radar and after checking it you like what you see and you look like a good candidate, then apply.
Loved your article. I never gave some of the college letters a second look because I was aware of the fact that it was a marketing technique. However, what got me looking up this topic was the fact that University of Chicago sent me a book. A 200 hundred page book in color and expensive paper. It didn’t make sense to send something so expensive to a student, and to a student who is not on par woth their standards.