When you register for the PSAT and SAT, there is optional information you can input on your registration form, such as your date of graduation, GPA, intended major, family income and much more. The College Board, which operates the SAT, sells that information along with your test scores (I believe it is a score range, not your specific score) to interested Colleges. Per their website, over 1200 Colleges purchase this information. Colleges can then target their marketing to a particular profile of student.
The College Board calls this process the Student Search Service. My first reaction was that I did not want my daughter to hand out personal information to help Colleges target their marketing. On the other hand, it makes sense for MIT, a very selective College that specializes in programs like Engineering, Computer and Natural Sciences, to not send catalogs to a below average student who is interested in Psychology. While you may become sick of all the mail and wasted paper, registering for the Student Search Service is a good idea for many reasons:
- You are put on potential Colleges’ radar, which is important to the College. Mary Smith is applying, but does not appear to have ever visited the school or made contact with an Admissions Officer. But I do see that Mary was on our mailing list, so maybe she made an informed decision and is truly interested in our College, which means she might enroll if she is accepted into our school. (Although I would not recommend applying to a College without having even had a phone conversation with an Admissions Officer, to demonstrate your interest.)
- You learn what sorts of Colleges are interested in your credentials (GPA, Test Score) and that offer the majors you are interested in. You may have your heart set on going to College in Washington, DC, but not have heard of Goucher, because it is nearby but not in Washington, DC. On reading the brochure, you find out that Goucher is known for its environmental initiatives and has a nuclear magnetic resonance spectometer, which for some reason, makes you excited. BTW, that example was completely made up, although for all I know Goucher does have a NMRS (an acronym I also made up!). Keep in mind that some Colleges have extensive mail marketing programs, to increase their annual applications, which decreases their acceptance rate, thereby becoming a more selective College. A brochure from University of Chicago doesn’t mean that you are qualified to enroll at University of Chicago or that U of Chicago has programs that match your interests.
- The marketing materials will include offers (some may offer you Scholarships, based on your credentials) and opportunities (a special campus visitors day, for example).
- The brochures and other marketing materials can help you learn more about a College (maybe one you have never even heard of), to determine if it might suit you.
- Those brochures can also be helpful when you are writing an essay in your application about “Why you want to attend this College?”. Lots of the same information is available online, but there often is material not seen on-line, which gives you an advantage over other students who have only gained knowledge about the College through their website.
It’s interesting to note that even Colleges that are test-optional purchase this information. This 2011 Bloomberg article discusses this practice.