I have a College Admissions laboratory at my house.

It’s called “having twins who are sophomores in high school and took the PSATs last Fall and one who filled out a NRCCUA Survey although he has no memory of it and swears it never happened”.

Since October, the lab has received hundreds of mailings addressed to each of these individuals.  I believe the statistics are such:

February 1995-October 2010: 197 pieces of mail – mostly birthday and Christmas cards.

October 2010-Present: 219 pieces of mail from various colleges across this fine nation (and 1 or 2 abroad).

And it’s (almost) all a complete waste. 

I don’t mean in the environmental sense; we can recycle the materials.  But, in the “they don’t even open them, assume Dad will take care of it, don’t even know why they’re getting them or what the people sending them want them to do about it” sense.

The boys also get emails, which they ignore with almost equal vigor.  I don’t believe they’ve had any contact via social media.  Yet.

We are seeing two trends that have emerged in the last decade come together in a gloriously imperfect storm.  First, colleges are trying to reach students earlier and earlier and (correctly) believe that students are, equally, looking at colleges earlier and earlier.  Second, we are at a point in time when communication is in flux.

As for the first issue, students are looking earlier.  But almost all of that looking is via online surfing.  And they are generally casual window shoppers.  They are unsure about the entire college process and a headline on a mailing piece will rarely change that.

As for the second issue, we are in a world that offers phone, email, text, Twitter DMs, Facebook messages, blog comments, Online Gaming Messaging and even snail mail as legitimate modes of communication.  Never have there been more options and less certainty on how to talk to someone.

I don’t really know what the “right” answer is.  However, I do have a few thoughts on how the process might work better.  I encourage other parents and counselors who read this to chime in with own advice and thoughts..

1) Have a Call to Action.  What do you want Ashley or Brad to DO about this mailing you sent them.  However…

2) Do not assume they are getting excited over receiving a free shirt if they enter a code into a website you are directing them to.  Too much work for something they really aren’t as excited about as you are.  I’m talking about Open Houses, presentations in or near their hometown, tickets to a sporting event, scholarship applications.

3) If you are going to reach out to sophomores, think about how to entice the parents.  They are more likely to opening the envelopes, anyway.

4) Compile much data.  Do much thinking.  You are spending a boatload of money to do this.  Is it worth it?  I don’t know.  One sophomore who locks in to a college and goes on to attend and graduate may contribute over $100,000 of income to an institution directly and much more, indirectly, if Justin or Caitlin really likes his or her experience.  So, you can afford a lot of strikeouts.   A LOT of strikeouts.  But, in today’s world, are you hitting ANY home runs with snail mail?  Again, IDK.

4) Email is not dead.  But be aware that it is often used more like texting than snail mail and act accordingly.

5) Use Social Media.  Sophomores can friend, fan, like, comment, connect and view in relative obscurity.  The better question is how to get them to your sites.  The even better question is who is going to be the first college to nail it just right – I don’t think we’ve seen the first truly viral college campaign.  Yet.

6) Don’t do any of this just because you have done it before.  As I said, my sons have received several hundred pieces of mail in the last 7 months.  They’ve opened about 5 envelopes.  Maybe it’s worth it, but I would think long and hard about why you’re doing this campaign and what mode of communication would best meet your goals.  If it is money that can be moved to scholarships or new academic facilities, or improvements to the Student Center, that wouldn’t be so bad for recruitment, now, would it?

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.