High school students whose mailboxes overflow with college publications each summer and fall soon might find the same onslaught in their virtual mailboxes.

The College Board, administrator of the SAT and the ACT, began selling students’ eMail addresses to colleges and universities this summer for the first time. The nonprofit testing service has sold lists of test-takers’ names and addresses to accredited colleges since the 1970s.

“We’ve only been collecting eMails for two years, and this is the first time we have made that information available to colleges,” said Steve Graff, director of enrollment planning services at the Reston, Va.-based College Board.

“The College Board now has a critical mass of eMail addresses to make this possible,” he added.

“We’re talking about providing colleges sometimes hundreds and thousands of names where they’re really cultivating first contact,” said Brad Quin, College Board executive director of admission.

“We have about 800,000 students—out of 2 million test-takers—registering online every year, but each and every student has the option not to have their information released,” said Graff. He explained that students must check a box that reads “yes” when asked if they want their information released to colleges.

Though the College Board expects colleges and universities to begin using eMail to make first contact with prospective students, the organization does not know of any colleges that have done so yet.

“We know of several institutions that use eMail contact once kids have made the initial contact” themselves, Graff said.

Many colleges already use eMail to communicate with their students, but most have yet to take full advantage of virtual marketing, Quin said. Meanwhile, consulting companies have sprung up to help colleges market themselves online.

“Students don’t want mail, they want eMail,” said Brian Niles, whose Philadelphia-area company, TargetX.com, helps colleges communicate with students through eMail. Schools seeking assistance in setting up and administering eMail systems already have contacted the company.

Contacting prospective students through eMail serves a dual purpose: It’s cheaper and it shows students that the college uses the same technology that they do, Niles said.

He has created a student search service that will use the College Board’s eMail list and will cost colleges 6 cents for each message, plus a $150 setup fee.

At Temple University, admissions officers already use eMail to stay in contact with students, said Donna Mlaker, the university’s associate director of admissions. The school does not use eMail addresses, though, to contact prospective students initially.

“We haven’t gotten that far in our planning. It would be a huge number of students that we would be sending to,” she said. “I think it would depend on what our system could handle.”

Notre Dame University has been using eMail to alert prospective students about upcoming chat-room topics on its web site and as follow-ups to mailed correspondence.

“Generally, we use eMail for reminders or encouragement,” said Paul Carney, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame recently purchased eMail addresses from the College Board and plans to ramp up the level of its eMailed correspondence.

“We will probably use this as a second form of contact, after we send an initial mailing of information to prospectives. We’ll send the eMail out shortly thereafter to remind the students to respond to our mailing. We would not normally send follow-up letters, because they are too expensive, so this is a good way to touch base,” Carney said.

“It would not surprise me if many people use eMail as a first contact, though,” he added.

Paul Cramer, director of admissions at Ursinus College, said his institution probably would not be interested in sending high volumes of eMail messages to prospective students. Ursinus, with 1,250 students, is located about 23 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

This year, the school is providing laptop computers to all its students as part of the $29,600 cost of tuition, room, and board.

“We want to let them know that we are wired and that we have these capabilities. At the same time, we don’t want to abuse it by spamming,” Cramer said.

Quin, of the College Board, said he also has concerns about spam, or computer junk mail.

He sees his own teen-age son sifting through large numbers of eMail messages each day, skipping many of them.

“The college has to be very careful about how it crafts its message,” he said.

The College Board is careful to ensure that the information it releases to colleges is used for purely educational purposes.

“Colleges can’t sell the addresses we give them to anyone else, and we specify that the addresses can only be used to bring educational opportunities to students. They can’t, for example, be used to advertise for a summer basketball camp,” said Graff.

Graff also explained that electronic communication is covered by the same agreement that the College Board has about mailing addresses, namely that every institution must specifically inform each prospective student contacted that his or her information was received from the College Board.

“We just ask that they include a line in every communication to high schoolers saying they got the address from us,” he said.

Graff added that the College Board only sells student information to colleges, universities, and scholarship agencies. Marketers cannot receive the addresses or eMail lists, he said.

The College Board hopes that more correspondence will increase dialogue between students and their counselors, Graff said.

“Students are the real benefactors. They can receive more timely information on important things like college visits and recruitment. There is a great call for internet communication,” Graff said.

Links:

The College Board
http://www.collegeboard.com

Notre Dame University
http://www.nd.edu

TargetX
http://www.targetx.com

Temple University
http://www.temple.edu

Ursinus College
http://www.ursinus.edu