Does this scenario sound familiar to you?

College brochures, postcards, and letters have more than doubled the amount of mail we get in our mailbox every day. We have no idea what we’re supposed to do with it all! My 16-year old son calls it “college spam mail.” So far, every piece has landed in the trash. Still, I wonder if maybe we should be doing something with it?

Once your high school sophomore completes the PSAT, your mailbox will inevitably become flooded with letters and postcards from colleges trying to pique their interest. This sudden influx of mail can be overwhelming for students and parents alike during what’s already a very stressful time.

Building a student’s college list is the single most important thing a student can do in the college admissions journey—but to what extent should the mail they receive from colleges factor into their decision-making process?

The short answer is “very little,” but let’s further explore this hot topic.

Reframe How Your Rising Junior Thinks About College Mail

First and foremost, remember that college mail is, for all intents and purposes, nothing more than marketing material.

The entire purpose of these letters, postcards, and brochures is to increase applications by advertising the advantages of a particular college and making potential students feel special.

Keep in mind that the more applications a college receives, the lower the percentage of admitted students it will have. This statistic is touted by many schools as a symbol of exclusivity.

Just because your rising junior receives 4 pieces of mail from one college doesn’t mean that school wants them specifically—and, more importantly, it doesn’t mean that school is the right fit.

So what should students do with all this mail?

There’s no harm in looking through it to see if anything truly does pique their interest. However, your student should always conduct their own research to see if a particular college aligns with their needs and desires.

If your student is a rising junior, there isn’t much else to do with this mail for now. You can pretty confidently trash anything that doesn’t seem incredibly exciting.

Once your student enters junior year, they’ll want to start building their college list. Perhaps (just perhaps) some of this mail will expand their search to schools they hadn’t previously considered.

How to Start Building a Useful College List

When it comes to building a college list, other strategies are significantly more effective than relying on college promo materials. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Complete the Personal College Inventory worksheet. This free tool from Signet walks students through the most important questions they should ask themselves before beginning the college search. Once they’ve completed this worksheet, they should have a solid idea of what they’re looking for in a school.
  • Begin looking for specific schools. There are a lot of resources out there to help students with college research. Not all of them, however, are reliable and accurate. Signet created a Resource Guide for Researching Schools that can help you determine the most comprehensive and useful resources.
  • Assemble an initial college list. Review the completed Personal College Inventory worksheet together with your student. Typically at this point in the process, the next step would be to collect your student’s SAT or ACT scores to determine what kinds of schools they might qualify for. (If they’re rising juniors, they won’t have test scores yet, and that’s okay! They still have plenty of time for list-building). Juniors can begin filling out a School Research Tracking spreadsheet.

If you and your student would like additional guidance navigating the college application and admissions process, Signet offers college admissions consulting services to help students put their best foot forward.

Our experts work one-on-one with students to assist with college selection, strategic application targeting, personal and supplemental essays, and much more.

Have questions about the college admissions process? Please reach out to us and we’ll be happy to help you brainstorm admissions strategies!