myUsearch blog

Honest college information — choose, apply, get into and pay for college.

How Colleges Find You

February 16, 2010 By: Category: Admissions insider, Choosing a College, College search tools

Does this scenario sound familiar?  You get home from school and grab the mail out of the mailbox in front of your home to bring inside.  It’s the usual junk mail, catalog or two, bill for your Mom or Dad.  But then you notice something different.  Something addressed to you!

Let’s be honest.  You are probably only used to getting a card from Grandma on your birthday and maybe a cell phone bill (but you probably get that online).  Something addressed to you that isn’t one of those two things must demand your attention, right?

The next day you get home … and there are 2 things addressed to you.  The next day 5.  The day after 10.  What are these wonderful pieces of mail I am talking about?  Well if you are a high school junior or senior you know … I’m talking about the mounds and mounds of brochures from colleges that you are probably getting on a daily basis.


Photo by gerlos  

How did they get your name?  Why are they mailing these things to you? You are receiving what we in the college admissions world call a “search piece”.  We mail these pieces to students hoping that it will drum up enough of your interest to consider requesting more information.  How do we find you?  Well … there are a few different ways.

Standardized Tests and Practice Tests

Do you remember when you took the PSAT, SAT, or ACT exam?  During that test there was probably a little box that said “I would like to receive information from colleges”.  If you left that little box checked off, you gave that testing service the right to sell your name and contact information. Don’t worry though … they are only allowed to sell your contact information to colleges … and the smart colleges don’t waste their money and only buy the names of students that are the most likely to be interested in attending based on the survey information you complete during the test.

The downside of this process is sometimes colleges just buy every name available in a geographic area because they feel like they need the exposure.  This can be as a result of a dip in their reputation, or (from a more positive perspective) a desire to reach out to a different type of student to “spice things up” at their institution.  These approaches are what causes you to get mail from colleges that you have either a) never heard of or b) would never consider attending.

College Search Sites

A somewhat more refined approach to your college search would be to create an account on a college search site.  There are lot of them out there.  These sites put the control back in your hands.  If you un-check that box on your standardized test, you may still get SOME mail from colleges, but you can do a lot more of your own research online … and keep your landfill neat and tidy in the process.

If you have gone on any number of college search sites (like for example), and did a search by putting in your basic information and things that interest you (location of a school, majors offered, diversity statistics, etc.), chances are those sites are also working with colleges to find the right match.  In fact, many sites position themselves as a way to show colleges that you are “more than your test score”, or they claim to be an “honest college matchmaker”, or a “college search made simple” (Note: If you are a high school junior or senior and can tell me which college search sites use each of these slogans I will mail you a prize).  The truth of the matter is … these sites are right.  They work hard to not only get good information out of you to help colleges find you … but also work hard with the colleges to get solid data and information so you can make an informed choice. College search sites can be a great way for you to make your college choice, but make sure to use a site (like that allows you to control which colleges your information is sent to.

Years ago recruiting for colleges was an annual event.  Colleges would buy a bunch of names from the testing services, do a huge mailing, and hope for the best.  Now recruiting you is a process … We still get a bunch of names from the test services but we do a more refined search.  The money we save on the names from them, we use on the search sites that you create accounts on.

The lesson here is check boxes wisely and fill out surveys/account information honestly and completely.  This will maximize your chance of finding the best match.