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Tales from the Motherhood: College uses sly tactics to solicit potential students

Published: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 4:57 p.m. CDT

Here’s an excerpt of an email my son received this week from the director of admissions at a Midwestern college:

“Subject: Thank you again, Noah Dear Noah, Thank you for responding to my earlier message! I appreciate your enthusiasm, and I am looking forward to staying in touch with you. Whether it’s sending along a guide that will help make your college search more successful or answering a question you may have, I enjoy helping ambitious students like you … Thank you again, Noah!”

Nice email, but for the fact that Noah never actually responded to any “earlier message,” from her or any other college admissions officer. This wasn’t the only such email he received from her, either.

Last week, he received one thanking him for requesting her school’s admissions checklist, though he never requested it when it was offered in another email she sent, dated the day before.

What’s up with that?

In fact, it seems this isn’t the only school using such tactics to reel in prospective students. We’ve gotten similar emails from other institutions, but Noah has yet to reach out in any of the ways claimed.

He’s a sophomore. We’re just beginning that exciting climb up the steep learning curve toward college, and, while we expected communication from prospective schools (our email address was shared with a database of college soccer coaches, but they’re not the ones sending these emails), we didn’t anticipate running into this kind of yucky recruiting ploy.

With college costs soaring and parents and students second-guessing how much they will invest and how deeply into debt they’re willing to go – given the reality that the prospect of finding a job upon graduation is currently so low – I understand that schools may be feeling the pinch.

That’s no excuse, though, for using thinly-veiled marketing techniques designed to inspire eager, overwhelmed young people to engage in dialogue, and, in fact, a relationship under false pretenses. This process is challenging enough for kids and their families without prospective institutions of higher learning injecting even more elements of anxiety.

What kid needs to suffer an, “Uh oh, did I really send this woman a message?” moment?

The mama bear in me was not pleased.

With Noah’s permission, I drafted a reply to this admissions officer and expressed my concerns.

“My kid’s 15,” I added, “so yes, at this stage of the game, I’m the gatekeeper. Your employment of such tactics only reinforces this decision.”

I also expressed that I was genuinely curious to know her thoughts on this subject, and asked if she was aware that she was quite likely turning off other prospective students and their families, too.

I have yet to hear a reply.

Did we blow it? Should we have been flattered by such efforts? I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong, Noah’s a great kid and a decent student, but fooled into feeling flattered? Not so much. Insulted, maybe. It may seem like a small thing, but think about it – isn’t it sad when someone is willing to blatantly deceive another just to get their attention?

This experience has served as another teachable moment of sorts in my efforts to help my kids to become critical thinkers and consumers. They don’t need to feel desperate to be courted – not by brands, potential friends or even, God forbid, the “holy grail” of American dreams – prospective colleges.

Perhaps this school really is a good fit for my son, but hey, if the behavior of their director of admissions is any indication, I kind of doubt it.

I suppose I should be grateful. That’s one less school visit we’ll have to make, after all.

When you go with your gut and your gut says “this stinks,” you gotta listen. The return on that investment is worth it, every time. That, my friends, is an education worth getting.

• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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