Set up for Disappointment

Set up for DisappointmentMy middle daughter is a very bright high school junior and a pretty darn good athlete to boot. No really, she is. The college admissions direct mail solicitations are pouring in to her inbox and our mailbox. This week alone she’s been graced by The University of Chicago, Wake Forest, Brown, Columbia, Vanderbilt and Oberlin. Eye-popping opportunities for sure – to attend and perhaps play at these schools. She’s so Lucky. We’re so Lucky.

Or maybe not. Recent reports have detailed 2011 as the most difficult year yet for college application acceptance. Harvard took in a record 35,000 applicants and their acceptance rate looks to be about 6% – its lowest in history. Some students, in an effort to hedge their bets, submitted more than 30 applications. At an average of $75 a pop. That said, the yields (the percentage of students who enroll after being accepted) for these schools are also at all time highs, Harvard reports a 76% yield this year. So apparently, if you are lucky enough to get in – you go.

A successful direct marketing campaign is traditionally made up of a well-developed mailing list that reaches the target audience and an enticing, strong offer that compels that audience to respond. Clearly, the audience in higher education direct mail is responding. But to what end? There is very little carrot on the end of this stick.

Is this “You can look but you can’t touch approach” to marketing really bearing fruit? What exactly is the goal? To create an even more elitist appeal? To bring in more money through the application process? To fund the printing and postal industries? To give kids a big “Naa, Naa, Naa, Boo, Boo?”

Kathleen Kingsbury of The Daily Beast posted a good read detailing some dirty (and some hilarious) little truths from admissions counselors across the country. Here’s one of my favorites –


Elite Schools Aren’t Usually Sincere in Their Solicitations
“Top-tier schools practice highly selective admissions. However, when your acceptance rate is in the single-digits, you are really an office of denial, not admission. I think that there should be limits as to how much recruitment/encouragement admissions offices do if you are already denying over 90 percent of your applicants. I am sensitive to the amount of recruitment that top schools engage in, and the increasingly ‘strategic’ and marketing mentality that some schools have. When is too many applicants too many?”

Mid-Atlantic private university admission officer

As an advertising professional, I’m definitely conflicted. I LOVE to see (and produce) beautiful and effective direct mail, but ‘effective’ in this case begs for more than sheer numbers. Is it a successful direct mail campaign that denies over 90% of its respondents? Truthfully, I’m not sure. We’ll see how it plays out in our household – will she be left with brand envy, pining for the ones that got away; proud that she even applied; or will holding those rejection letters leave her bitter and far less impressed?

Read more from More College Admissions Secrets, by Kathleen Kingsbury Info at


Hi. We’re Jennings. We’re in Durham, North Carolina and we live and breathe healthcare marketing.

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