Beware of Universities Dishing Out Compliments

Has your teenager received flattering email or literature from universities or even VIP college applications from schools that are already prefilled?

If your child has gotten any of these communications, let me make this quite clear, it doesn’t mean anything. Despite all the collegiate flirting, the schools may not be interested in your child.

Flattering College Email

I wanted to warn people about colleges buttering up students after I received an email today from a dad in Texas whose son got an email from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that reminded him that today is the deadline for Early Decision applications.

The email included this note: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is very interested in receiving your application, which is why we have sent you this reminder”

Here is part of the dad’s note to me: My son is looking at other schools including the service academies so it may not be until the spring of 2011 that he gets a complete picture of what schools he gets accepted to.  What is your opinion of the afore mentioned note from RPI?

I understand why RPI would want to lock this student in. The more applicants who apply through the Early Decision process, the larger pool of students that RPI gets to choose from. It makes sense from an institution’s perspective, but it rarely makes sense if you’re a potential applicant.

Getting love notes from a school, by the way, doesn’t not mean that a student will get in. Many colleges and universities send out flattering letters and/or applications to students that they have no intention of accepting. Why? The more students who apply, the more students a college can reject. And perversely these institutions will look more exclusive if they can turn away more teenagers.

Beware of Fast-Track Applications

Families need to be just as vigilant about fast-track applications that seniors across the country are receiving. To attract more applicants, some schools, with the help of marketing firms, send out thousands and even tens of thousands of applications that are easier for teenagers to complete than the typical ones.

Here is how a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education describes these fast apps:

Many high-school counselors offer colorful descriptions of “fast track” applications, an increasingly popular recruitment tool among colleges. Such applications come with students’ names and other information already filled in. Typically these solicitations also provide other incentives, like waived essay requirements, and promise quick admissions decisions.

For these reasons, some counselors call them “crap apps.” Matthew J. DeGreeff, director of college counseling at the Middlesex School, in Massachusetts, uses a simile instead. “This is like catnip for admissions deans,” he says, “because you can expand the application pool overnight.”

Bottom Line:

Don’t apply to a school because it seems to like you. Apply for the right reasons only and don’t get snookered by fast apps. Finally, as I’ve mentioned many times before, most students should resist applying early decision.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and She also writes a college blog for  CBSMoneyWatch and US News. Follow her on Twitter.

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  1. My son has also been contacted by many of the colleges and universities mentioned above. Regarding Willamette, I read that they only send fast-track applications to about 40% of students, so I think it might be a somewhat credible expression of interest. We also recently received one from Macalester, where my son probably has only a slim chance of admission. We filled out the application anyway because it is one of the schools my son had already been considering and they waived the application fee. No harm done. That said, many of these schools have contributed to an atmosphere of distrust among parents and many of us are just saying “no, thanks,” we’d rather go with the safety state school, not, for instance, the University of Chicago. By the number of mailings they have sent us over the past several months, you’d think they were short of applicants, and not at an 18% admit rate.

  2. My daughter applied on a fast track for Willamette. She got the invite on 9/9/10 with a promise of a quick decision. Two days later on 9/11/10 she submitted it. On about the 15th they sent her a letter reminding her to have the transcript. She wrote back and said it was sent on the Monday. They replied that they did already have it. They would have received it on the 14th.

    So, it is over 7 weeks since they received everything. Now, if you apply EA/ED, it generally takes 4-6 weeks (and includes Thankgiving week). Rolling admission schools take 2-3 weeks. We have not yet heard. My daughter has written twice to see if anything has gone wrong. No response.

    I see now what a scam this is. While I do think they will accept my daughter because she is way ahead of their average from GPA and SAT scores, I find that they also send this same “oh, we really want you! please hurry” to much less qualified students. I worry that some kids will relax on the application process, assuming they are loved. Now if they honored their promise for a quick decision, it might not be so bad. But, seven weeks? Pretty sleazy.

  3. I don’t see any big proble with fast-track applications, as long as it is nonbinding. It takes some pressure off when that first acceptance comes in–at least the student is going SOMEWHERE. You’re totally right though, that the school has to be a good fit academically, financially, etc.

    1. I have a problem with fast apps because it prompts students to apply simply because a college — whether it’s an appropriate match or not — sent no-fuss application. It’s a waste of everybody’s time if a student applies for no reason except that it’s easy.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy