Recruit & Retain

You're In!

College applicants who once learned of their fate through a fat or thin envelope are increasingly getting digitized, personalized or otherwise enhanced acceptance letters.

By hitching acceptance notifications to social media campaigns or committing to more personal missives, colleges aim to help new students form immediate relationships with faculty and peers and generate excitement about stepping onto campus.

Sealing the Deal

“The admit packet is supposed to be representative of the institution’s personality,” says Brigid Lawler, dean of admissions at Marlboro College in Marlboro, VT. “It should make the applicant want to accept their admission, pay their deposit and get totally psyched about the school they have chosen. In essence, it is a ‘deal sealer.’”

In January, Marlboro College began including a journal in its acceptance package. Each page is printed with musings on academics, student life or community from current students — in their own handwriting — and newly accepted students are encouraged to add their own thoughts.

“We want to share something very close to our hearts. Community, writing and sharing thoughts or feelings are part of who we are at the core,” says Director of Marketing and Communications Matthew Barone.

Admitted students are welcomed to Lebanon Valley College (LVC) in Annville, PA, with a welcome package, including a Dutchman (the school’s mascot) magnet and a logo folder emblazoned with the message “You’re In!”

“There are added costs to this packet — folders, magnets and assembly are more expense than a standard letter. But the results we see on social media every day are telling of the success,” says Emily Summey, director of Media Relations at LVC.

“Students will follow us (on social media), potentially start following their classmates and faculty members and increase their online engagement with LVC as a result of that first Tweet or Instagram showing the world that they’ve been accepted. This has huge value for us.”

Social Media Matters

York College of Pennsylvania has also recognized the value of social media engagement by creating a Storify “selfie” campaign this year. It asks accepted students to take a self-portrait with their acceptance letter and post it to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. The hashtagged posts then appear on a Storify page, giving new students an early opportunity to connect.

Siena College in Loudonville, NY, has gone a step further, awarding prizes to some students who post “selfies” with their acceptance letters.

“Generally speaking, we’re still in the traditional letter mode,” says Kenneth Jubie, Media Relations specialist for the college. “But, we create a vibrant social media environment for accepted students who are able to post photos of themselves with their letters. It generates excitement and is a way students get to meet each other and interact before they start at Siena in the fall.”

“The Big Letter” is only the beginning at Sewanee: The University of the South, in Sewanee, TN, which hosts an interactive website, yourdomain.sewanee.edu, where admitted students can learn more about school traditions or career development, as well as contact current and former students for advice before heading to campus.

Future students at Mansfield University in Mansfield, PA, get a personal welcome in addition to the traditional acceptance letter; accepted students get a video of congratulations from the student’s personal admission counselor, welcoming them to the university.

In addition to a phone call and a traditional acceptance letter, Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL, first reaches out to students in the most prevalent form of communication known to teens: text message. A short text of congratulations points students to their personal admission portal, which offers details about their acceptance and next steps.

Albright College in Reading, PA, “virtually high-fives” students who post their acceptance letters to social media, says Director of Admissions Chris Boehm, but otherwise holds fast to the traditional acceptance letter.

“The college admission packet evokes more emotion than almost any piece of mail that a student will ever receive,” says Boehm. “Why do you need anything else? That’s plenty of excitement!”

A phone call from the admissions office before the letter arrives can make the letter a bit anticlimactic, Boehm admits, “but it gives us an outstanding opportunity to personalize the process and invites students to engage Albright in conversation. For a small, private college, there’s nothing like the personal touch.”

Less Is More

Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, also takes a “less is more” approach to acceptance communications, including a reminder that accepted students are now both individuals and a part of a greater whole.

“This year, we mailed a beautiful admitted-student packet and a Meredith ID holder to students, as a symbol to encourage students to identify themselves with a very strong Meredith reputation,” says Director of Admissions Shery Boyles.

That gesture, and the efforts of other colleges, captures the essence of the modern acceptance letter: an announcement that “You’re in,” but also that “You’re one of us.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

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