Originally Posted: Apr 4, 2016
Last Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Yes, you read that title right. And yes, I am referring to the millions of messages you and many other students have been getting since your first year of high school—emails, letters, posters, and all sorts of other things. These can be annoying, or even downright upsetting; however, they do have a use. If you keep all of the following in mind and approach these emails and letters in a prepared way, you can turn them to your advantage. I know this because I have.
So, without further ado, here are some ways to make use of those recruitment emails.
Look past the “recruitment fluff” to get a real glimpse of the university sending the email
I can guarantee that just about every recruitment email will say one or more of the following:
- You are a gifted student.
- We have small class sizes.
- We have a small student-faculty ratio.
- We have a diverse student body representing all 50 states and X countries.
- You should come visit us.
- We are ranked very highly on a certain list of colleges.
- We are committed to making college affordable.
- Our application process is special.
- We have a nationally recognized curriculum.
- Our campus is the most beautiful in the world.
- Oh, and we’re completely unique.
Learn to ignore all of these; this is just the college trying to appeal to you. Once you remove these 11 phrases from a recruitment email, only the useful stuff is left behind: random tips, suggestions, programs, opportunities, and even scholarships or useful information about applications and such. It’s then that you can really get the most out of the emails.
Figure out a way to make all the college emails land in one place
Colleges and universities get your personal information from tests like the ACT, SAT, PLAN, and PSAT, as well as other things like AP tests and scholarship sites. If you can somehow direct all of these emails to one isolated place, they will be much easier to look through and compare. One way to do this is by creating a college-only email address through Gmail (or whatever your email service is) and using that address for all of your school things. Another way is to let the emails gather in your inbox, then start using forwarding rules to direct them all to one folder.
Related: How to Organize Your College Search
Take the surveys they send you
Every once in a while, a college will send you an email with a link saying something like “take this survey on our website!” Take those surveys. Yes, they will always end up saying you should go to their university (“It seems you have an interest in physics. Well, our university happens to have an excellent physics department...”). However, the surveys will tell you other things, too, like what you’re interested in, what type of college is for you, and other useful information. If nothing else, they can help you get an idea of what that college is aiming for. In general, it's good to keep talking to the schools you actually want to go to. That's because they track your interest, and though it won't make or break your chances of getting in, it can legitimately help you tip the odds in your favor.
Unsubscribe from schools you don't want to hear from
Every recruitment email has that link within it somewhere; use it. Get rid of any colleges that you just don’t like, and eventually you’ll have an inbox full of emails from only your colleges of interest, which is more useful than not. This will also make room for the non-recruitment emails (see below).
Sum up the college in one or two words
Each college aims to give you a certain impression, and they’re each different. If you think for a minute and come up with a word that describes a college that sent you an email, it’ll help you know if that college really appeals to you or not. It will also let you know what kind of message that college is trying to send, and whether or not they actually fit that impression. Some examples: Yale, sophisticated; Ohio State, big; Macalester, small; Columbia, city life.
Try to see why they are interested in you
These colleges aren’t just sending you emails because they feel like it. They want you to attend their university, and they want you to make them look good. There is a reason they’re targeting you in particular—you just have to find it. Did you do well on your ACT? Are you interested in a major the college offers? Realizing the reason behind the email will give you an idea of how you appear to scholarship givers, college application readers, job interviewers, and the like. That is valuable information.
Look for programs, visits, scholarship opportunities, etc. that are often included in college emails
Sometimes colleges aren’t trying to recruit you. The only email I ever got from Stanford University (a university I happen to want to go to very much) was about an eight-week summer college program they were offering. These offers are like diamonds in a giant pile of rocks. Some will be pure scams, but occasionally they’ll be truly awesome scholarships or programs like the one Stanford offered. Others will include smaller things, like essay writing tips or example application essays.
Check for offers that aren’t from specific colleges or aren’t even from any colleges at all
This is one of my favorite uses of recruitment emails. Colleges will sometimes tell you about academic opportunities that have nothing to do with that school in particular. In addition, some programs will obtain your email address the same way all those colleges did and use it to send you information about what they offer. This is how I found out about the Common Application, Questbridge, CollegePoint, National Society of High School Scholars, National Young Leaders Conference, and others—and that made looking at recruitment emails totally worth it.
So, they’re not useless. In fact, they can be extremely useful. You may find the college of your dreams through these recruitment emails; or, if you’re like me and have your university chosen already, you’ll find tons of scholarships and other programs ready for you to dive into. So don’t discount these emails as endless trash and abandon your computer for a trek across the Plains just yet.
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