Why Does College Messaging Feel So Dishonest?

The college applications process in a drawing. Illustration by Pearl McNames 

Just like the average senior, I’ve been starting my search for college within the past few months. I’ve scrolled websites, taken virtual tours, and flown across the country to visit multiple campuses. So far, I haven’t felt good about a single part of the process. Despite the constant reassurance from colleges saying that “we care about our students” and “we want you,” I still feel like a product. Some of it is the application process, which is designed to distill us down to a set of values that colleges can look at and decide if we fit into their pie chart, and another part of it is the seemingly endless stream of marketing and propaganda. Thanks to the wonderful technology of email, it feels like every college gets to present two faces: The face that we all think of when people in grades above us tell us that the application process is a nightmare (a symbol of capitalist education designed to turn a profit at the expense of students), and the face we see when we open our email, or log on to our portals (a face which says “Hey! Hey you! You and I are meant to be together! Come look at our website to learn more!”). Colleges need to be clearer in how they talk to us.

Part of the icky feeling of applying to college is the conflicting thoughts in our heads about our education system. It seems logical that education of every level should be free and accessible, but unfortunately, college is neither of those things. The average tuition cost across the United States is $35,720 per student, per year according to data from the Education Data Initiative. An important thing to remember, according to Franklin High School College Coordinator Regina Stanton, is that all colleges are for profit. And it shows. According to the same study mentioned above, the average cost of a four-year private school (one which doesn’t receive state funding) is double that of the next lowest cost, coming in at $33,150 dollars per year, compared to $16,000. With these numbers in mind, it explains why colleges are desperate to attract students. Even if grants and scholarships put a small dent in their yearly income, they still make massive amounts of money, while also being extremely academically selective. 

How can colleges change the way we perceive them? It’s a tough task. Some would say that it’s not possible, considering the systemic issues with access to higher education within America. While I don’t necessarily disagree with those people, I will trade in my usual cynicism in order to provide some ideas. Step one would include being upfront about financial aid options. Money is one of the most crippling factors to attending any form of college, and telling prospective students how they will be able to afford their college tuition is key. Personally, most of the colleges I have looked at, I had to hunt down financial aid information, scrolling through pages and pages about graduates and the city the college was in. Not that this information isn’t important, it just simply wasn’t relevant for that stage of my search. Another way colleges can help out is by telling us how they’ll support their students after we get accepted into their schools. For many, college is an unprecedented experience, and the concept of being alone in a new city can be daunting. I have yet to see any information from any of my schools that would ease these concerns. 

Even with all the noise that comes with looking for the perfect college, from the email blasts, to the unhelpful information about graduate programs for a field you’re not interested in, there are still things you can do to cut down on the noise. Stanton says, “It’s one thing to know what your college major is… students need to be able to take a step back and think about what [it is] that [they] want, academically, and socially as well.” Most of my college search was dictated by the fact that I wanted to go to the East coast, which drastically narrowed my search when I went to look for my ideal major. 

The college search sucks for a variety of reasons, but it can be made easier on our end. Colleges can make access to financial aid information easier, and Franklin has plenty of resources in the College and Career Center. The Internet is also a tool we can use to help as well, with countless college lists for every major, or area of the U.S. If that still doesn’t put you at ease, then at least you only have to do it once. Probably!

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