In today’s rapidly evolving connected world, the college acceptance letter has dramatically changed. Once upon a time students would wait for the mail to be delivered with news about their college future. Now students receive an email, or welcome packet, or even learn of their college fate via a tweet or Facebook post. An increasing number of colleges and universities are moving from a traditional college acceptance letter to recognizing the benefits of enhanced acceptance packages. By hitching acceptance notifications to social media campaigns or by committing to more personal missives than the traditional acceptance letter, these institutions help new students form immediate relationships with the faculty and their peers, as well as increase institutional exposure and generate excitement about stepping onto campus.
“The admittance packet is supposed to be representative of the institution’s personality. 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,'” says Brigid Lawler, dean of admissions at Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont.
In January, Marlboro College began including a journal in its college acceptance letter 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 heart. Community, writing, and sharing thoughts or feelings are part of who we are at the core,” says Matthew Barone, director of communications for Marlboro College.
At Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania, the acceptance “welcome package” includes 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 obviously more expensive 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 overall 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.”
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 hash-tagged posts then appear on a Storify page, giving new students “an early opportunity to connect,” says Alicia Brumbach, director of web communications for YCP.
Siena College in Loudonville, New York, 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. 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,” says Kenneth Jubie, media relations specialist for the college.
Sewanee: The University of the South doesn’t end its welcome at “the big envelope” announcing acceptance either, according to Lee Ann Backlund, dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Sewanee. The university hosts an interactive website, yourdomain.sewanee.
In addition to a phone call and a traditional college acceptance letter, Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, reaches out to students in the most prevalent form of communication known to teens: via text message.
“The text, because of size limitations, is very short and general, but is congratulatory and points the student to their personal admission portal (their VIP page) where more details about their acceptance and the next steps can be found,” says Liza Romansky, director of marketing at Nova.
Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania, also notifies students of acceptance before their letters arrive via snail mail. From Director of Admissions Casey M. Wood: “The university emails a video from the student’s personal admission counselor, congratulating the student and welcoming him or her to the university.”
Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, will “virtually high-five” students who post their acceptance letter to social media, but the college otherwise takes a classic approach to welcoming new students by calling them with the good news and sending the traditional acceptance letter.
“The college admission packet evokes more emotion than almost any piece of mail that a student will ever receive. Why do you need anything else? That’s plenty of excitement!” Director of Admissions Chris Boehm says.
A phone call 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. It works well for us.”
Count Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania, among the colleges who believe in the power of a simple acceptance letter done right, too. Acceptance letters are hand-signed by Director of Admissions Glenn Bozinski and personalized with references to things the student wrote in his or her application essay. “Sometimes I will mention meeting the student personally, or a specific honor or award or motivation they express or talk about. It really catches the eye,” Bozinski says.
Bozinski also says the classic scene of a family gathered around a college acceptance letter envelope as a hopeful student opens it remains an important part of acceptance. “I think families are so much more involved in the nuts and bolts of the decision than my parents were a few decades ago. Part of that is their financial involvement, but a lot more of it is that overall connectedness of parents and children through technology and common interests. Parents today know much more about their children’s lives than generations in the past and see these decisions as joint ones, so the packet truly is a family thing,” Bozinski says.
Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, also takes a less-is-more approach to acceptance communications, including a simple reminder that accepted students now are simultaneously individuals and parts of a greater whole.
“This year, we are mailing 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 Boyles. That gesture, and the efforts of other colleges, capture the essence of the modern acceptance letter: a notification that not only states “You’re in,” but declares “You’re one of us now.”