Dear Colleges: Thank You For Wasting Trees And Building False Hopes

Colleges woo kids they have no intention of admitting.

Just like labor pains, as we draw closer to the time when college applications are due, the solicitations from schools come faster, harder and closer together. The hefty color brochures that overflow our mailbox and are giving our mailman a hernia are from schools across the country; some you've heard of, others not so much. It matters not; they all send them.

They were proceeded by a slew of  "personal" emails from dozens of schools "inviting" my high school senior daughter to apply early and assuring her what a fine college experience she could have in their welcoming arms. And before those emails came a bombardment of other daily emails and letters wanting to get to know her better, inviting her to visit, attend a summer program there, telling her to call if she had any questions. Some schools actually called her, or more precisely had a student call her. "We can be friends if you come to school here" was the message. "It's so much fun. You should apply."

Now I will allow that my daughter is a great student with a terrific set of extracurriculars and accomplishments. But does she deserve to be showered with as much attention and flattery as she's receiving from schools because of any of those things? Of course not.

These schools just want her to apply so they can reject her. All this solicitation and loving on her is all so that come next spring, they can tell her she isn't good enough to go to their school. Colleges do this, of course, so that they can appear to be more highly selective; the more selective they are, the more desirable they appear. How tremendous a school must be if it accepts a mere 10 percent of its applicants! Never mind that half of those who applied weren't remotely qualified in the first place.

College admissions is a game. Actually, it's a not-so small industry that supports thousands of workers -- private college counselors who tell you where to apply, others who guide you through the application process, and others still who tell you how to get financial aid all the while you are paying them dearly for their advice. But none of that offends me as much as the effort and expense that colleges expend recruiting kids they know they will never admit to their school. 

Think about this: Yale University accepted just 6.3 percent of the 31,000 applicants it received for a spot in its freshman class of 1,360. That means for the class of 2018, Yale rejected 93.7 percent of its applicants. Harvard and other top elite schools are just as guilty as Yale, which at least has cut its "recruitment" mailings by a third since 2005. 

But the "flatter them and they will come" approach appears to be working. Bloomberg reported that while the number of high school graduates dropped 2.2 percent between 2008 and 2011, college application numbers are soaring. Bloomberg also points out something else: Charging as much as $90 per application (Stanford University) isn't a bad way to fill the college's coffers either. 

So what's a kid supposed to do? Should she thank the college who sent her a birthday card? Call up the dean of the school that has never seen her grades but told her she can be a "selected scholar" if she applies early? Should she acknowledge the school whose courtship has thus far included more than 15 pieces of mail and countless emails?

Maybe the answer is to prove just how smart she is by applying to the schools she knows might actually accept her.

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