One good way to rise in the university rankings is for a school to become more selective. That is, have a greater applicant pool to reject. But how can a school become more attractive? It could develop a big sports program. It could create many highly specialized graduate programs. Or the college could engage in some, well, creative marketing. According to an article in the New York Times:

Over the last few years, the tiny College of Saint Rose in Albany has seen applications increase at least 25 percent annually, minority admissions rise and its standing in the U.S. News and World Report rankings climb more than 20 rungs.

How? Well according to the article the college essentially did what credit cards do to tempt college kids to sign up:

Last fall the college sent out 30,000 bright red “Exclusive Scholar Applications” to high school seniors that promised to waive the $40 application fee, invited them to skip the dreaded essay and assured a decision in three weeks. Because the application arrived with the students’ names and other information already filled in, applying required little more than a signature.

Apparently more than 100 American colleges paid a marketing firm, Royall & Company of Richmond, Virginia, to bring them applications. The company delivered lists of students from information it purchased from the College Board, the standardized test company that manages the SAT.

According to the article, Marquette University apparently gave “a free baseball cap to the first 250 respondents to its ‘Advantage Application’” as part of its marketing campaign.

As high school admissions counselors pointed out, the application fees (about $50 a college) can add up for high school students. The campaign is not entirely unwelcome. Still, one wonders what sort of applicants a school can attract when their primary motivation for applying to the school is a free hat.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer