When Tel Kelley began his college search, he knew he wanted to go to a big school with a top-notch sports medicine program and big-time intercollegiate teams.
But as his senior year began at Alamosa High School in Alamosa, Colorado, Kelley started hearing over and over again from about a dozen schools he’d never contacted and in which he had no interest. He estimates that each school sent him two to three emails a week, plus letters and brochures encouraging him to apply.
It’s been “overwhelming,” said the 18-year-old Kelley, an A student who has already been accepted to Oklahoma State and Arizona State universities. Now, as the emails keep pouring in, he said, “I just delete them immediately so I don’t have to deal with it.”
As college-admissions season kicks into high gear, Kelley is a target of a little-known practice among colleges and universities called “recruit to deny,” under which they try to make their admissions process look more selective by boosting their number of applicants — then turning many of them down — through hard-sell marketing techniques.
One major reason for this is that the more selective an institution appears to be, the higher it ends up in the college rankings, said David Hawkins, executive director of education content and policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC.
“The rankings drive this,” Hawkins said. “But if the rankings went away tomorrow, you would still have college presidents, trustees, alumni, students and all sorts of other stakeholders who care about how selective their college is.”