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Posted at 01:40 PM ET, 08/19/2011

Meet ‘Nat,’ my college-applicant alter ego


Catholic University, one of a half-dozen schools that have e-mailed recruitment pitches to the author under the misimpression that he was a high school student named “Nat.” ( JEFFREY PORTER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
I think it was last fall that I received the first e-mail addressed to “Nat.”

I cover higher education, so I am accustomed to getting e-mails from colleges. But this one was different: The writer seemed to think I was a high school student who, at some point, had filled out one of those forms that trigger recruiting pitches from idyllic colleges.

It was from Oral Roberts University, the Christian college in Tulsa.

“Dear Nat,” it opened,

“Every day, students from all over the world contact our office to receive information about ORU. However, we are seeking you out because we believe you have the potential to emerge as an outstanding leader of your generation and that Oral Roberts University just might be the place for you to begin your journey.”

It seemed like a fluke. But over the next weeks, I received pitches from other colleges, all addressed to Nat.

One came from Bluefield College, another Christian school in Virginia.

“Nat, you can get a college degree anywhere,” it said. “But, is it just a degree that you're looking for? Or, are you looking for a school that can help you find your passion and turn it into an exceptional career.”

Another came from Norwich University in Vermont: “Drive. Dedication. Commitment. That’s Norwich. In the classroom. On the field — not to mention the court, mat, rink, and pool.”

And another:

“Consider The Catholic University of America. Our location in the heart of Washington, D.C., means cultural, professional, social and service opportunities are just a Metro ride away!”

And another:

“We’re hoping by now that you’ve heard of Berea College, its respected academic programs, and its four-year tuition scholarships for all admitted students.”

And another:

“Cal Poly is excited to send this web series highlighting aspects of campus life and all the things Cal Poly!”

In all, “Nat” has collected more than 30 pitches from a half-dozen colleges over the past 10 months. They’ve arrived with subject lines such as “Love to win? Then you’ll love Norwich” and “Why Bluefield? Because you’ve got options.”

Who is Nat, and why am I getting his college e-mails? I don’t know.

Some of the e-mails said Nat had “opted in” to some vast e-mail database through a company called the National Research Center for College & University Admissions.

That group’s web site gives this account:

“Through our annual surveys, we gather information on student attitudes and educational plans from nearly 5.5 million students in 22,000 public and private high schools nationally. The survey is voluntary and students participate at no cost. This valuable research is published and distributed to nearly 1,500 member colleges and universities so they can better identify high school students who meet their institutions' admission profiles.”

Selling student names to colleges is big business. This company does it along with at least two major competitors, the publishers of the SAT and ACT, according to this piece in Inside Higher Ed.

Colleges purchase names of students with attractive test scores and reach out — through the U.S. mail in the old days, and now also by e-mail.

Perhaps someone signed me up for the mailings as a practical joke, or to give me a window into the breathless world of college recruiting.

I haven’t bothered to unsubscribe to the mailing list. In truth, “Nat” hadn’t exactly been bombarded with pitches. Colleges are nothing if not courteous in their correspondence.

One of Nat’s suitors, Norwich University, wrote a few times and then, when Nat didn’t reply, politely announced that the mailings would stop:

“OK.  We've sent a few emails. Tried to get to know you. Obviously, we'd love to hear from you.  But we don't want to bug you either. So let's just make this easy. If you want to learn more about us, request your Guide to Norwich University. If you don't, no worries. We understand.

“But seriously. You'd love it here.”

By  |  01:40 PM ET, 08/19/2011

Categories:  Admissions, Marketing

 
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