My son got added to Dartmouth’s email list. Is this normal?

By Maxine Seya

“My son got added to Dartmouth’s email list. Is this normal?”

– A parent

First, don’t panic.  But also don’t get too excited.

It’s normal to get added to a school’s email list, even if you don’t recall specifically signing up. Only a few years ago, families would receive shiny, printed college brochures in the mail — from colleges they never recalled contacting. The email list is 2020’s version of the unsolicited college brochure in the mail.

We spoke to Pomona College admissions’ email marketing expert about this. He’s in charge of using email to recruit applicants. You wouldn’t think Pomona College, an extremely selective liberal arts college with a 7% admit rate, would need to market their services. With all the interest, wouldn’t it be easier to read fewer applications and halt recruiting altogether?

But no, any decrease in the number of applications received will result in a tank in rankings even fewer apps makes the admissions officers’ lives easier. So Pomona markets to students and parents, just like every school, including Dartmouth and its equivalents in the Ivy League.

How do these schools get your information?

The SAT is known to sell student data. Universities can buy your son’s information for less than 50 cents. Knowing your son’s test score range, demographics, contact info, etc. allows the universities to improve their odds of a sale by reaching out to a warm lead that matches their typical customer base.

If your son has taken the ACT, SAT, PSAT, or has signed up with College Board services, it’s likely that Dartmouth has traded in cents for his data.

What if he hasn’t taken any of these tests? That’s understandable, especially this year, because it’s a pandemic year: test centers have shut down and colleges have eliminated score requirements.

Grant Cushman, the marketing expert in Pomona’s admissions office, summarized the multiple avenues your son’s email could’ve sneaked into the mailing list:

Self-proclaimed inquiries

Did your son interact with Dartmouth by requesting more info from its website, engaging in their social media content, asking a question, or otherwise took the initiative to reach out? Here’s what Grant said:

“There are candidates that enter our system one way or another, whether it’s through meeting at a college fair. These ones are called inquiries, which means that they made an inquiry about the institution – a self-proclaimed inquiry.

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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.