I wish more colleges would follow their own advice

If a family hired a $50,000 consultant to help craft their student’s application and essays to a particular college, to advise the student on everything from what activities to pursue to what to wear to his college interview, every admissions officer I’ve ever met would justifiably cry foul.  They’d almost certainly recommend that the student save his money and instead just be himself, secure in the knowledge that the right colleges would appreciate him.  It’s good advice.

I wish more colleges would follow it themselves.

lot of students and parents don’t realize just how much money colleges spend to market their schools to students.  Collegiate marketing is a huge industry in which colleges buy everything from lists of students based on PSAT scores to expensive marketing consultants to help them craft their messages and develop their brands for the college-bound audiences.   

Look at the exhibitors that will be in attendance at the National Association for College Admissions Counseling’s annual conference this fall, and note how many of them have descriptions like, “recruitment services,” “student leads,” and “lead generation.”

Sometimes those marketing experts just make colleges look silly, as Appalachian State and more recently Drake University learned the hard way.

I actually don’t fault the colleges entirely.  I’m always talking up the fact that there are over 2,000 colleges in this country and it makes sense that a lot of those schools are competing to fill their slots.

But to the colleges reading this, teenagers are a lot smarter and savvier than most of us give them credit for.  They’re not going to fall for carefully branded messages your marketing consultants create any more than you would fall for a strategically crafted essay the student didn’t actually write herself.

If you want to stand out to your intended audience and really generate interest from the kids who are most likely to appreciate what you offer, follow the same advice you’ve give kids–don’t try to sound like everybody else.  Be authentic.  Be specific.  Don’t worry about whether or not you sound impressive.  Like this…

“We’re a pre-professional school filled with students who’ve identified what they want to do with their lives and are looking to us to help them make those dreams realities.  Yes, you’ll go to class here.  But you’ll also learn by actually doing things outside of class.  If you want to be a teacher, we’ll put you in a classroom as a teacher’s aid during your first year.  If you want to be a journalist, you’ll see for yourself what life is like working at a newspaper or magazine during your first summer.  And if you want to be an engineer, we’ll have you designing your own buildings or machines or circuitry two years before you graduate.  Not everyone knows at age 18 what you want to do with your life, but if you do and you’re ready to start down that path, you might enjoy spending four years here.”

Or…

“We’re a place for thinkers.  Spend a day here and you’ll see students reading all day on our main lawn.  You’ll hear them discussing politics or Russian literature or Chinese history (seriously, you will).  Sit in one of our classes and you’ll see how engaged our students are in what’s being taught (it’s not surprising–students here interview their professors before picking their classes just like you’d test drive a car before you bought one).  We don’t have a football team, fraternities or a marching band.  But we do have a Civil War reenactment society, a club committed to a sustainable food project, and a gentlemen’s society dedicated to providing free homemade ice cream to the community.  Some of our students even have blue hair.  They’re a quirky, interesting, disarmingly intellectual bunch and we couldn’t be happier to have them all here.”    

The best way for a high school student to stand-out is to be authentic and proud of who he is.  I think more colleges should do the same.