How do colleges get your name?

This time of year many high school juniors will start to feel stalked. This is because colleges and universities have YOUR NAME. Actually, if it were just your name I suppose that wouldn’t be so bad. Unfortunately for you, however, we also have your address, phone number, email address, myspace and facebook account, and possibly your locker combination. You may start to wonder how we come by all this information. The more paranoid among you may surmise that admissions officers have an elaborate intelligence network utilizing a combination of spy satellites and human assets (and hasn’t the janitor always seemed a little TOO interested in our trash? And what’s with that new lunch lady always asking us how our day is going?).

Before you start indulging such fantasies, let me clarify the matter. When you take the college-related standardized tests, the SAT and ACT, or even when you take the pre-test version, the PSAT or PACT, they ask you for a BUNCH of unrelated information. At some point, as you’re feeling groggy from filling in bubbles, you are asked if you want to share this information with colleges and universities who might want to offer you unlimited cash and prizes…or maybe they say admission and scholarships. Whatever, it sounds pretty much the same either way. Nearly all of you will say yes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s among the best ways to get information out of the schools that interest you, and a TON that don’t.

The story is, once you give your permission to the testing agencies, they can sell your name to us evil college marketing types over and over again. Recently the folks who bring you the SAT decided it they would break some new ground (or re-break old ground) and let colleges buy names of students with lower incomes. This is an idea colleges have that they can be diverse if they can just contact enough people without money. Of course, the Collegeboard realized some time ago that most schools actually used the service to buy names of people WITH money and send more stuff to those households, but they’ve cleared that up. Now you can only buy names from Collegeboard of everyone, or of low income. Of course, you can buy the list twice, once with only poor households, and then you can tell which is which. Or you can run the same geodemography program that Collegeboard uses and just buy the zip codes where we know rich people live. But thank GOODNESS the Collegeboard is protecting you. While they sell your names. To a lot of people.

There are also a few companies that survey you through your teachers. They pay your teachers to give out the survey (not very much), collect the data, and sell it to colleges and universities. I can also get your name commercially. Remember how cool it was when Granny signed you up for those Disney books when you were a wee tot? OR when you signed up for the Jonas Brothers fan club online (I mean, who didn’t?). You guessed it – pretty much all that data is available for sale.

So there you have it – you are easy for us to find. I’m NOT saying you should say no to the ACT and SAT, and I encourage you to fill out the surveys. Why? Well maybe you will get information from some schools that are really great that you might not have considered otherwise. And even if you didn’t, I’ve still got that janitor in place…be seeing you.


5 Responses

  1. Thanks for the warning…….and who are you to mess with a good janitor….don’t make character flaws so obvious….there are some good folks at GMU and you do not serve them well. STOP dumbing down the process.

  2. My appreciation for your astute and well thought out advice. Thank goodness I have great minds like you looking out for me – and you’re right to warn me about dumbing down the process, since you appear to be so far ahead of the curve in that capacity.

  3. Another big source of spam is college search sites. You may have experienced some of these. There are really two kinds:
    1) Helpufl, unbiased sites like petersons, collegeboard and myusearch (It’s my site, shameless plug) that give you college matches based on your needs, not the school’s willingness to pay
    2) Sites that just ask you a few questions and then give you a list of school’s that have paid to be listed. These sites not only spam you and send you direct mail, but they also call you. So beware. I wrote a post with tips on how to avoid the college spam. Hope its helpful:

  4. Excuse the typos above. I hit submit by accident.

  5. Actually, I think the worst aren’t the one that spam you about college, or sell your name. Most of you already know to use an email address just for your college search, and a few more mailings you can tolerate. It’s the many sites secretly run by lending companies that I think may be more insidious. They gather a lot of information about you and your family, and then can try to steer you to their lending agency…So as Elizabeth mentioned, be cautious about who gets your personal information!

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