Unfortunately, I had to tell the parent that these letters mean almost nothing. It does mean that the student scored high enough in a standardized test to catch the attention of Harvard. It does NOT mean that Johnnie is Harvard bound.
Most colleges buy lists of students from the ACT and SAT that have scored above a certain score. That score differs from college to college depending on how competitive the college is. The colleges then send out letters, brochures and other advertising pieces to these students.
The typical college will probable buy more than 10,000 names and I have heard of colleges buying over 100,000 names. Now I know that everyone thinks their student is exceptional but even all of the truly exceptional students are not going to get into Harvard.
Why do colleges send all this mail out if they know that they would not accept almost of the people that they are sending the letters to? If you talk to the colleges it is so that some student who has never heard of Harvard before can find out what a wonderful school it is, will apply, and get into a great college.
In all fairness I am sure that Harvard gets 1 or 2 students a year like this. But the cynic in me knows that the real reason colleges are sending out these letters is to get more students to apply, so that they can reject more students. Thus the colleges look even more competitive and therefore “better” in the eyes of the rating magazines.
If a student gets a letter like this, go ahead and feel good about your self. You’re a strong test taker and you caught the eye of a good college. But don’t stop your investigation into what would be a good college for you. Because letters like this won’t really help you make that decision at all.
And while I have been picking on Harvard here, the same is true of the hundreds, if not thousands of colleges across the country that buy lists of students from the testing agencies. There is nothing wrong with any of this except when it raises the hope of a student about getting into a highly selective college. Be realistic in evaluating your chances of admissions to any college. Do your homework.
Do that, and you will find that you will find a great college even if you don’t get letters in the mail.