Why am I getting mail from Harvard?
…or any other famous named school? Well, let’s talk about this. This does not mean that Harvard wants you, or that Princeton wants you, or that Columbia wants you. Please do not be confused because they sent you some mail. These promotional materials are sent to you to generate interest in the school so that perhaps you will apply. These are not to be confused with recruiting materials when a college is actively seeking to enroll you.
Colleges purchase your PSAT scores and contact info in order to spread the word about their school and to drum up interest in potential students. They also purchase the scores and names of students who are not in their target admit bracket, in order to encourage those kids to aim high and do better in school.
My students often come to me, waving letters from big-name colleges, and I have to be the bearer of bad news (Don’t shoot the messenger!): “You are not being actively recruited by ‘Dartmouth‘ because they sent you this brochure. This glossy publication does not mean that anyone on the other side knows your name, or wants you to attend their school. They do want you to consider their school, possibly visit and apply, though.”
Active recruiting materials are different. These are generated by an actual person who does know your name and does want you to attend their college. Active recruiting materials include personal emails from an admissions rep or coach, and anything handwritten. If someone writes you a note and signs it–a note that is obviously personal and refers specifically to you–then that is a big deal, at any school, and you have every right to be very, very excited about it.
A glossy brochure with a lovely formal letter (even with your name on it) is simply a marketing material, and you should use it as a reference and informational material about that college. These can be very handy and fun to read, but they are not personal. Students often confuse promotional materials with recruiting materials. Because recruiting materials are so rare, due to the time it takes to generate even one, they are worth getting excited about. Collect your spiffy brochures, but understand their purpose.
On the other hand, do not be discouraged if you are not being actively recruited by a school. Receiving personal contact is rare and in my personal experience, 98% of students don’t get these type of messages. Just because Princeton isn’t knocking at your door doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get in. Stay positive and do everything you can to create the best application you can. Get started by searching for colleges that interest you! 🙂