Good kids under siege College mail deluges seniors, and it can be 'just horrible'

November 28, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

There's something waiting for Olivia R. Pullara when she get home from school every day: Mail. Lots of mail.

For months, colleges across the country have been writing Olivia. As a high school senior with good grades and college admission test scores, she is in demand.

"When I first started getting it, I read them," said Olivia, who is 17 and attends Notre Dame Preparatory School. "But when it got to be four or five a day, I gave up."

She estimates that she has received some 500 mailings -- brochures, catalogs, form letters, even personalized greetings from enthusiastic alumni.

Colleges are in the thick of their annual hunt for students for next fall. With the number of students graduating from high school declining, the search is more determined than ever. Many students start getting mail in their junior year, some even earlier.

"It's a competitive market," says David L. Sanford, the dean of admissions at Frostburg State University. "Years ago, the gray-haired dean would sit back and give advice to prospective students. Now it's a market-based enterprise. It's been an amazing change."

This fall, the number of students enrolling as undergraduates at Maryland colleges dropped for the first time in seven years.

The number of students graduating last spring from Maryland high schools also dropped, the fourth consecutive year of decline. It's a trend that is expected to continue for at least three more years.

The number of high school seniors will probably not soon again be as large as it was in the 1970s, when classes were flush with baby boomers. "But it does start to improve beginning in 1996," says Elise Seraydarian, director of admissions at Goucher College. "That's what all of us are waiting for."

Goucher's admissions office will spend roughly $1 million over the year to find, recruit and admit the 800 students who will enroll as freshmen next year. That includes recruiting trips to countless high schools and college fairs across the country. For the last two years, Goucher, like a growing number of schools, also has sent a recruiter to Europe and Asia for several weeks in search of international students.

Goucher also sent mailings to some 60,000 students this year, names purchased from the list of students who took the PSAT exam in their junior year. The lists, purchased from the College Board, which administers the tests, have become a mainstay of college recruiting efforts across the country. With the help of computers, a college can request a list of students who took the test and met any number of criteria. Students from the Middle Atlantic states, for example. Or students with a particular test score.

On average, a student's name is purchased 25 times. Last year, schools bought a total of 42 million names, at a cost of 19 cents each.

St. Mary's College, a public school in Southern Maryland, purchased about 40,000 names for its recruiting list. About half the names were of students in the Middle Atlantic area, the college's best recruiting turf.

Others were of youngsters from areas such as Miami and Chicago, where students who like sailing might be interested in St. Mary's waterfront location, says Jim Antonio, St. Mary's dean of admissions and financial aid.

A majority of colleges now use the College Board lists to recruit students. Many schools, though, report that few students, usually only one out of 20, respond to out-of-the-blue mailings.

The most sought-after students are the ones with solid grades and exam scores. Many colleges simply don't bother recruiting the best students, figuring they will go to the nation's elite institutions anyway.

David Crouch, a 16-year-old senior at Loyola High School who edits the school newspaper and has good grades and respectable exam scores, is an attractive target for many colleges. He says he has heard from more than 100 colleges during the last few months.

"The mail came all summer," David says. "It was just horrible."

David, who lives in Fells Point, says he read some of the material, particularly the letters from alumni pushing their alma maters. Now he's thinking of applying only to local schools, Goucher and Loyola College.

Olivia Pullara, the Notre Dame Prep senior, says she will probably stay close to home as well, despite the interest from other schools.

The thrill of receiving such a flood of mail from colleges praising her academic record has faded, she says.

"The first few times, I'm like, 'Wow, I'm pretty smart,' " Olivia says. "But when you get it 10 times, it's not too exciting."

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