Happy Valentine’s Day college searchers!  I often tell families that finding the right school is like falling in love.  Students sometimes experience a gut feeling the first time they walk on the right campus and, if they’re lucky, are courted by the college with an enthusiastic offer of admission with generous scholarships.  A perfect match.

I wish it happened that way all the time but unfortunately finding The One is more complicated than your standard romantic comedy.  Like it or not, colleges play the field and it is in the student’s best interest to respond in kind.  Don’t hate the player hate the game.

So what are the rules of engagement?  Sad to say there are very few.  As a student your job is to make every school think they’re your main squeeze.  As a word of caution, as an admissions counselor I got many emails from students expressing their love...for another college.  Yep, they committed the classic cardinal sin, sending the same email to multiple colleges and forgetting to change the name in the text.  Definitely don’t do that.

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Otherwise my tips for students are those we’ve covered before when talking about demonstrating interest--send emails, shake hands, visit campus.  All of these actions send not-so-subtle signals to a college that you’re likely to enroll if they admit you.  This can be a powerful factor in the admissions process.

Of course colleges are playing this same game, except instead of a handful of colleges they are whispering sweet nothings to thousands of prospective students.  For this reason it’s important to make sure you set some boundaries and not believe everything they tell you.

For example, sometimes student receive an invitation to complete a “priority application” or get a fee waiver and feel encouraged about their chances.  Unfortunately this is not always accurate.  Colleges go to College Board and purchase the contact information for students in different score bands that they want to target with marketing materials.  While they aren’t able to match specific scores to names they are able to identify students they want to get applications from.  That’s the key--not students they want to admit but students they want to have apply.  While their intentions aren’t always nefarious, (they could just be casting a wide net to be safe) in order to increase their selectivity rating colleges might attract students slightly below their profile just so they can say “no thanks” and then brag about how in-demand they are.

It takes a little time but the key is to get good at telling when it’s true love.  If you’re unsure try this test: are you getting stock communications from the school or personal outreaches from an admissions counselor?  They’re very good at faking a personalized email or letter but usually you can tell if you look closely.  Also, a school in love will put their money where their heart is.  Lots of scholarships or offers to join exclusive on-campus programs is a sure sign they’re smitten.  Don’t ever underestimate the power of being a big fish in a small pond.  That school begging for your attention will likely offer many of these perks to attract you to attend--perks that could lead to a more enriching college experience!

I don’t want to make anyone jaded about the process but it is important to read between the lines when communicating with colleges.  If anything, understanding the machinations of schools might alleviate any guilt felt at a less-than-sincere proposal from you.  All that said, try to stay positive!  Even if they’re just not that into you you’re going to find a college that is!