An Open Letter to College Admissions Counselors


Dear college admissions counselors,

Here’s what I want you to know about those piles of emails you send me.

First of all, please do not tell me that you have selected me. Do not say “we think you’re a great fit,” or  “you’ve been identified,” or “you stand out to me.” Don’t tell me that you know I’m an “ambitious student” or a “motivated student with a lot of potential” with an “adventurous spirit” and “curiosity, ambition, and compassion” who is “eager to take ownership of your education” and “interested in STEM programs and careers” (I’m not, actually). I know that the only thing you know about me is my PSAT score. You don’t know anything about me. Please don’t try to pretend that you do. It’s frustrating, and honestly, it feels belittling that you think I would fall for that. You’re not flattering me. You’re just antagonizing me.

Relatedly, please don’t try to trick me by saying it’s my “last chance,” your message is “time-sensitive” or I “still have time…” I’m a sophomore in high school. It is not my last chance for anything. Oh, I also got this really annoying one with the subject line, “You have (1) pending notification.” No. No, I don’t. I haven’t even clicked on anything from you. I archived that one immediately so I didn’t have to look at the irritating notification message and didn’t even open it until just now. (It’s asking me to check out their “5 tips” guide. See below.)

Please don’t offer me an online guide, let alone a physical pamphlet. I don’t want it. Your website should, theoretically, have all the information I need to know about your school. I don’t want a brochure to arrive in the mail a week later, sit in a messy pile on my desk, and generally waste the piece of paper it’s printed on. I just want to see your website.

Please do not ask me to “confirm my information” or fill out any sort of form. I instinctively don’t want to do anything that looks like it will require effort, seems like it might make you send me another email or a brochure, or is non-straightforward in any way. I know you want to track who clicks on your links. That’s fine. Why don’t you just give me a link directly to your website that will track that I clicked on it? I know that’s possible, and it would be much more useful. I don’t have a problem with being tracked. I just don’t want to have to fill out any forms. As it is, I’d rather just Google your college than have to click through some kind of form that isn’t even going to take me to your website.

Additionally, I’m tired of getting emails telling me to check out your guide on how to know if a college is good. They have fancy names like “5 Signs a College Will Prepare You to Make History” or “How America’s Top Scholars Choose Their Ideal College”. I’m not stupid. (You know I’m not stupid; that’s why you’re emailing me in the first place.) I know that these guides are just going to tell me why I should go to your college, but under the guise of giving helpful advice. I’d rather you just tell me directly why your college is good and unique, rather than trying to mislead me into filling out another form for another brochure I don’t want.

Here’s an excerpt from one irritating one I got: “Is this the email address you like using most? The reason I’m checking is that I noticed you haven’t yet accessed College-Bound Planner: Engineer Your Future, and I don’t want this opportunity to pass you by.” I haven’t accessed your guide because I don’t want to access your guide. Blehhh.

Furthermore, please be interesting. I have received 519 college emails as of this writing. I’m only going to look at the ones that stand out to me. And right now, only one (1) college email has stood out to me. This was the only email that made me check out its website. In fact, I liked this email so much that I took a screenshot and shared it on Instagram. This is what you want to do with your emails.

The email is from Swarthmore, and it begins, “We have learned that you recently suffered the indignity of squandering several hours answering dozens of irritating multiple-choice questions. Sorry about that. But, as a result, a large standardized testing organization gave us your address, and so we are able to send you this cheerful email.”

Do you see how this is the only email that is actually interesting? Do you see how it grabs my attention, makes me feel seen and doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t? This is what you want to do. (Please don’t all go copy Swarthmore directly, though. If all my emails start looking like this, that won’t be any better. I hate when I get several messages in a row that seem to be copying each other.)

Also, please be straightforward. As mentioned, I have received more than five hundred college emails, so I’m only really scanning through them. I don’t want to have to read through purple prose, random anecdotes, and links you want me to follow in order to tell if I’m interested. Please just tell me some basic facts. Where is your college? What are you known for? What kind of college are you? How big are you?

I know what kind of college I’m looking for. I don’t, however, know every college by name. So what I need to know is whether your college fits the bill. Tell me, categorically, what kind of college you are. Give me some quick facts. Then I’ll decide if I want to look deeper and check out your website.

Please do the same thing in the brochures and pamphlets you mail me. Don’t fill the pages with nothing but stock photos of laughing students and useless ad copy about “Exploring The Future”. Just tell me. What makes. Your college. Unique. Especially because you’re expecting me to actually open my computer and visit your website!

And lastly, please don’t send email after email, letter after letter. I get that you’re trying to make an impression and make a place in the deluge of emails, but it’s really quite annoying how many emails we get and how many of them are duplicates. Please just send one email. If I’m interested, I’ll be interested, and I’ll likely find your college anyway, whether you send tons of emails or not. (I’m reminded of the scene from Harry Potter where all the letters come rushing in the chimney.)

In summary, please just respect the students you’re emailing. Respect our intelligence by not trying to trick us. Respect our time by getting to the point. Respect our already stressed lives by making it easy to find what we’re looking for. Please, just tell us the key things we should know and be done.

PS. You might wonder, if I dislike these emails so much, why I don’t just unsubscribe. The answer is twofold: one, I find odd enjoyment in having something so benign to be mildly frustrated with; and two, I really do want to hear about colleges, if only the emails actually did that. Furthermore, I’m not entirely sure whether clicking the “unsubscribe” button will actually unsubscribe me from anything.

PPS. I have been informed that there are a gazillion more reasons to complain about college admissions officers. My apologies that I cannot mention all of them in this article, but we can all scream together about all of them.