Remember senior year of high school when you got more mail than ever before in your life? One day’s mail would contain at least one postcard from the armed forces and several letters from colleges — many you didn’t even know existed.
Tens of thousands of students apply to the University of Michigan every year. Of those, only a fraction gain acceptance and end up matriculating at the Ann Arbor campus. But how do those students decide they want to bleed maize and blue? How does the University sell itself to bright high school seniors?
Attracting true Wolverines
When most people think of advertising, they think of mass mailers, widespread e-mails or nationwide television ads. While the University sends recruitment materials to hundreds of thousands of students, according to a former admissions officer, they’re not sending those materials out to just anyone.
Brie Jeweler-Bentz is an education consultant at the School Counseling Group in Washington, D.C. Considering that her job title isn’t exactly self-explanatory, she says you can think of her as a “private guidance counselor.”
Jeweler-Bentz is hired by families with children entering their junior year of high school who need extra help with their college search. She helps her clients throughout the application process, from choosing where to apply to editing their application essays.
Jeweler-Bentz, the self-described “college matchmaker,” said not everyone is a perfect fit for the University of Michigan.
When matching students to the University, Jeweler-Bentz noted that in order for students to stand out among the thousands of applicants, they have to make an effort.
“It’s not a school for an introvert,” Jeweler-Bentz said. “You need to be an initiator.”
Jeweler-Bentz added that though the University does tend to have large classes and an exceptionally large student population — this year 6,300 freshman are enrolled — it is possible to have relationships with professors. You just have to try.
“It’s one of those big schools that feels smaller to me,” Jeweler-Bentz said, reflecting on her time as an undergraduate student here.
In an e-mail interview, Erica Sanders, director of recruitment and operations in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Michigan, wrote that prospective students should embody the characteristics of well-rounded individuals.
“Students most interested in the University of Michigan recognize the importance of academic excellence, commitment to service learning and community engagement, interest in the creative arts and school spirit,” Sanders wrote.
Jake Timmis — a senior at Groves High School in Beverly Hills, Mich. and an applicant this year — said he thinks most high school students see Wolverines as students of high academic caliber.
“It’s a really respectable school,” Timmis said. “Anyone that goes to Michigan is thought to be a smart kid.”
Students want Michigan … does Michigan want them?
If the reputation of a Michigan student is so prestigious, does this world-class university — one that is sometimes referred to as the “Harvard of the West” — really need to advertise to attract students?
Timmis said he thinks advertising is unnecessary and that student recruitment played no role in his decision to apply to the University. He added that he’s never been to a college fair, nor has he attended an official campus visit.
Considering the already overwhelming demand for the University and increase in applicants after the University switched to the Common Application last fall, Timmis said he doesn’t believe there’s a need for the University to reach out and recruit students.
However, Jeweler-Bentz said the University does desire students, just as students desire the University.
“Michigan wants to attract high-quality students,” Jeweler-Bentz said.
Jeweler-Bentz said the University tries to target specific groups of students — citing high school visits as an example.
“Michigan knows that they’re competing with the top schools in the country for these amazing applicants,” Jeweler-Bentz said. “They need to make a really good first impression and try to connect and have that personal relationship.”
Admissions officers at the University conduct outreach and recruitment in-state as well as out-of-state. They do this mainly through school visits and other types of marketing.
Sanders said University admissions officers desire students who contribute to a “unique campus culture.”
“Sharing the experiences of current students regarding their U-M experience is the best way to help prospective students understand the Michigan campus community culture,” Sanders wrote.
Sanders added that the University uses multiple mediums — including e-mails, mailings, phone calls and alumni recruitment — to reach out to prospective students who match that culture.
The out-of-state Michigan student
Being an in-state student, Timmis was aware of the University before he applied. But out-of-state students have to do a little more research to learn about the Ann Arbor campus.
Julie Weltman, a senior at Plano Senior High School in Plano, Texas, said she wouldn’t have known much about the University if she didn’t have relatives in Michigan. Admissions officers didn’t visit her school, and she never attended a college fair where University officials were present.
“I already know about Michigan because I have a lot of family up there,” Weltman said. “If I didn’t, then I would really have no idea and probably wouldn’t have applied.”
Some Michigan residents argue that the University — being a public university in the state of Michigan — should feel an obligation to admit more in-state students over students who apply from other states. Weltman said she thinks the location of where students are from should have no effect on their chance of admission.
“I think it should take the best students that apply, no matter where they live,” Weltman said.
Sanders maintained that out-of-state students add diversity to the student body.
“Though in-state students are very important to the University, our campus community is rich because it encompasses students from around the world, which helps to create a rich academic community of scholars,” Sanders wrote.
The College Essay — More than 500 words
Application essays can be repetitive and tedious. Most ask how you’ll use your past experiences to succeed in college, and some simply ask for a “personal statement.” However, some colleges are using their application essay prompts to attract certain students.
Applicants to the University of Chicago often face non-traditional questions, including an essay question this year that simply stated: “Find X.”
Tufts University applicants can send in video essays. According to an article in The Huffington Post, admissions officials there said the optional prompts are used to “evaluate student creativity and originality.”
Officials at both colleges said their offbeat essay questions are used to find unique students.
The University of Michigan asked two questions of their undergraduate applicants this year:
“Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.”
“Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?”
The first question — which asks applicants about what “communities” applicants belong to — has been a prompt for several years, The question is usually asked in different forms and inquires about students’ experiences with diversity.
The University added the question in response to an injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court that ordered the Admissions Office to cease its affirmative action program.
Several groups — including the Center for Individual Rights — have raised questions as to whether the application prompt intends to determine the race of a student in an attempt to find minority applicants.
Though Sanders did not comment on the concerns of the question, she wrote that essay questions are an essential part of a student’s application.
“Our essay questions are evaluated each year with input from the University’s president and individual schools and colleges,” Sanders wrote. “The essay questions provide applicants an opportunity to share more about who they are and what they will lend to the University community.”
Recruitment gets creative
You probably remember the countless letters, booklets and e-mails from colleges all over the country. Envelope after envelope, college recruitment mail probably didn’t amuse or surprise you, but some universities are taking a more creative approach to get noticed.
In order to reach potential students, the University of Chicago sends a series of postcards showcasing the most interesting aspects of student life.
According to a recent report in the Chicago Maroon, the postcard campaign has attracted new students. According to the report, the university experienced a 10-percent increase in early action applications after implementing the program in 2006.
Timmis is a potential applicant who received postcards from the University of Chicago. He said the postcards were attractive, and if he met the academic standards of the university, the postcards would have encouraged him to apply.
“If I had a 4.0 (GPA) and a 35 (ACT score), I would have applied to Chicago, and I would have wanted to go there,” Timmis said.
Weltman also said she received interesting marketing materials from the University of Chicago.
“It almost made me apply,” she said.
In an attempt to reinvent the “usual, dull college admissions video,” students at Yale University — as well as alumni in the Yale undergraduate admissions office — created a 16-minute long musical video called “That’s Why I Chose Yale.”
The video — whose cast is comprised entirely of Yale students, faculty and alumni — has had more than 800,000 hits on YouTube.
According to a Jan. 10 Yale press release, the video is the brainchild of Andrew Johnson, who is the senior assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Yale. Johnson wrote in the press release that he and his team created the video “in the search for a fresh way to present the college to today’s applicants.”
In the press release, Johnson wrote that though the video is intended to be somewhat “cheesy,” it shows the many opportunities Yale has to offer in a way that’s more entertaining than the usual campus information session.
While Yale and the University of Chicago use innovative marketing campaigns, the University of Michigan doesn’t partake in similar endeavors.
And though it doesn’t appear that the University does anything out of the ordinary in its recruiting efforts, Sanders said the University is constantly considering new possibilities for its recruitment campaigns.
“The University continues to evaluate and consider new marketing opportunities,” Sanders wrote. “Where we determine the campaigns may potentially produce a positive impact, we incorporate new ideas.”
Jeweler-Bentz said some colleges are utilizing social media like Facebook and Twitter in order to attract students. She said Universities will successfully increase the number of applicants if they take advantage of those channels.
“They’re really trying to become more tech-savvy and go through all the channels in order to connect with students,” Jeweler-Bentz said.
Correction Appended: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the enrollment numbers of the 2010 freshman class and the amount of applications the University receives annually. It also incorrectly implied that Erica Sanders, director of recruitment, refused to comment on the diversity essay question, when she was actually unavailable for comment.