You're In! And Here's a Free T-Shirt

Colleges are trying hard to woo accepted students with goodies and flashy video E-mails.

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If you're a collegebound high school senior, you hope springtime brings those coveted acceptance letters you've been working so hard for. They may start filling up your mailbox, or your E-mail inbox, and possibly even your dresser drawers. 

When it comes to the college admissions process, snail mail may be a little old-fashioned. U.S. News did some research to see exactly how college admissions officers are notifying students of their admittance decisions, and we found that more and more schools are turning to the Internet and bling-bling in a multipronged effort to connect with students on their digital turf, to lock in commitments from wavering applicants, and to make their college stand out from the pack. St. Bonaventure University in western New York, for instance, includes a T-shirt with its acceptance package, and MIT sends its early action acceptees a tube that contains a poster and confetti. 

[Read College Acceptance Letters Are Glitzier, but Rejections Are Harsher.] 

Will schools be upping the ante this admissions season? Instead of a T-shirt, can you expect a comfy college sweatshirt with that acceptance letter? Unfortunately, probably not. But if you get in, you can count on what Ithaca College calls a "phat package"­—a foot-long envelope emblazoned with the words "Something big is about to happen"—or, from Kalamazoo College, a personalized, hand-signed acceptance letter, or, from Elon University, a congratulatory video E-mail. 

Hamilton College, though, is doing things a little bit differently this year: For the first time, the small liberal arts school will not be using dead trees to deliver the bad news to rejected students, only the Internet. Stanford University has the same policy. In the past, Hamilton would notify all applicants—those admitted and those rejected—through the Internet as well as through traditional snail mail. But after surveying students, admissions officers found that the percentage of applicants who preferred finding out online went up each year, and rejected students did not particularly enjoy being told twice that they didn't get in. 

How to notify rejected applicants in the digital age is a common concern of many admissions staffs. "Schools feel like if they post a denial decision online, it's almost an insult for that to arrive in a letter a few days later," says Greg Zaiser, dean of admissions at Elon. But admissions officers at Elon still send a letter to rejectees after listing the decision online, because Zaiser says there is not 100 percent awareness of an online posting. 

Monica Inzer, Hamilton's dean of admissions, knows that the college is walking a slippery slope. "What's the right way to deny somebody?" she says. "You want to be as sensitive as possible and not cut corners to save money if you're going to come off as insulting." 

Since 2000, the only old-fashioned paper that has been used by the admissions staff at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo is a courtesy denial letter for rejected applicants. "It definitely reduces paper costs, but it has nothing to do with the economy," says Jim Maraviglia, associate vice president of admissions. "It's student preference." 

The technology is great when it works, but it has gotten some colleges into hot water because of mix-ups in electronic acceptance letters. Last month, George Washington University made a major boo-boo when it accidentally E-mailed acceptance messages to nearly 200 rejected applicants. A quick apology was sent via E-mail to the students who received the accidental acceptances. A similar mistake was made at the University of California–San Diego last year.