Warning: Did Brad or Caitlin check a little box on the PSAT?  Did Ashley or Justin fill out some innocent looking survey in his or her Sophomore Social Studies class?  They may experience the following symptom:

17,000 pieces of mail and email from various institutions of higher learning across the U.S. of A.

The more advanced stages of these mailings can be identified by the following signs:

Pretty Pictures on Perfect Days With the Leaves Just the Right Color Red and Gold. (Unless the School is in Maine or Colorado – hey, look at that gorgeous, white snow!  Or Florida or Hawaii – look at that gorgeous, tanned student body)

Scientific equipment that looks really, really cool and complicated

Athletic teams clearly destroying the opposition

-And an incredible amount of professors teaching outdoors.

A slogan that clearly indicates one, two or all of the following:

We are a School that is: The Best of some World, in a Tradition of Some Type of Excellence that Will Do Something Positive For U.

Note: It was “positive for you” until a marketer in 1997 – whose name is lost to history – discovered that “U” was a hip, cool spin on the words you and University.

This plague can be transmitted via the following forms:

Viewbooks: Glossy paper products handed out at College Fairs and Open Houses.

Websites: Lurking 24/7 for your perusal.

And – the newest permutation – Facebook and Flickr pages, with their array of photographs and memories.

So, what do I do?  I want Justin to know more about Colleges.  I want Ashley to make an intelligent choice.  I don’t have time to stop by the Post Office and stop my mail.

-Keep a shoebox (or seven) or some sort of filing system to store the printed materials.

-Do look at the online material.  But…

-Understand (and make sure that Caitlin understands) that these are the prettiest pictures on the most perfect days in October, when the leaves were the right color gold and/or red.  These are real pictures, but they are probably not “the norm”.  (At least, I hope they are real – I’m hoping none of our brethren has stooped to stock student pictures or photo-shop.)

-VISIT, VISIT, VISIT.  See it with your own eyes.

-In lieu and in support of visiting, ask people you know who attended or have visited these institutions before for their input.

-Feel free to search online for other photos and information regarding these institutions.  (But respect that this information may be far less reliable than the college’s own materials.)

When I started in College Admissions, my first College had a very attractive Viewbook –  wonderful campus pictures and classroom shots with state of the art equipment and interested students, complimented by relevant descriptions of our academic offerings, athletic program successes and state of the art campus buildings.  We even had a slogan that, I thought, accurately reflected our location as a campus in a suburban location overlooking Manhattan – we were “the Best of Both Worlds”.

When I came to my second Admissions position, it was at a College in a northern borough of New York City.  Our Viewbook’s slogan?  “The Best of All Worlds“.  Sound familiar?  (FYI, the two colleges used the same Marketing firm.)

Bottom line: enjoy the pretty menu, but don’t forget to read the ingredients and sample the product.  And be careful when it says “market price”.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at info@cc4therestofus.com, call or text me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.