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New York Times publishes Brookline High School senior's 'daring' college essay

Posted by Your Town  May 23, 2013 04:32 PM

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The New York Times published the college admissions essay of a Brookline High School senior on its website last week, calling it both daring and risky.

In the essay, 17-year-old Julian Cranberg condemns colleges and universities for sending an excessive amount of mail to prospective students. Cranberg estimates that he has received $200 worth of mail from schools.

“Although vastly aiding the United States Postal Service in its time of need, it is nauseating to imagine the volume of money spent on this endeavor,” he writes. “Why, in an era of record-high student loan debt and unemployment, are colleges not reallocating these ludicrous funds to aid their own students instead of extending their arms far and wide to students they have never met?”

In January, New York Times columnist Ron Lieber asked high school seniors to submit their college application essays on “money, class, working and the economy.” A total of 66 students sent in essays, and Lieber republished four, one of which was Cranberg’s.

Lieber called Cranberg’s piece “perhaps the most daring” of the bunch, because “one of the first rules of the college admissions process is that you don’t write about the college admissions process.”

Cranberg said today that the essay evolved from a letter to the editor he wrote to the Globe in December. After it was published, he wrote a longer op-ed in his student newspaper, and then submitted the piece as part of his application to Antioch College in Ohio.

Antioch accepted Cranberg, but he ultimately decided to attend Oberlin College in the fall. Cranberg said he is unsure what he will major in, though he is interested in math, English, and Spanish.

Cranberg acknowledges in his essay that colleges that do not promote themselves directly to students may be at a disadvantage. At the same time, he says that the abundance of promotional mail “turns a lot of people off” from applying.

“It will be hard to dissuade colleges,” he said, adding, “this is a business.”

The full text of Cranberg's essay is reproduced below:

"Ever since I took my first PSAT as a first-semester junior, I have received a constant flow of magazines, brochures, booklets, postcards, etc. touting the virtues of various colleges. Simultaneously, my email account has been force-fed a five-per-week diet of newsletters, college “quizzes”, virtual campus tour links, application calendars, and invitations to “exclusive” over-the-phone question-and-answer sessions. I am a one-year veteran of college advertising.

They started out by sending me friendly yet impersonal compliments, such as “We’re impressed by your academic record,” or “You’ve impressed us, Julian.” One of the funniest yet most disturbing letters I received was printed on a single sheet of paper inside a priority DHL envelope, telling me I received it in this fashion because I was a “priority” to that college. Now, as application time is rolling around, they’ve become a bit more aggressive, hence “REMINDER – University of X Application Due” or “Important Deadline Notice”.

How is it that while I can only send one application to any school to which I am applying, it is okay for any school to send unbridled truckloads of mail my way, applying for my attention? If I have not already made it clear, it’s an annoyance, and, in fact, turns me and undoubtedly others off to applying to these certain schools. However, this annoyance is easy to ignore, and, if I wanted to, I could easily forget all about these mailings after recycling them or deleting them from my email. But beneath the simple annoyance of these mailings lies a pressing and unchallenged issue.

What do these colleges want to get out of these advertisements? For one reason or another, they want my application. This doesn’t mean that their only objective is to craft a better and more diverse incoming class. The more applications a college receives, the more selective they are considered, and the higher they are ranked. This outcome is no doubt figured into their calculations, if it is not, in some cases, the primary driving force behind their mailings.

And these mailings are expensive. Imagine what it would cost to mail a school magazine, with $2.39 postage, to thousands of students across the country every week. The combined postage charge of everything I have received from various colleges must be above $200. Small postcards and envelopes add up fast, especially considering the colossal pool of potential applicants to which they are being sent. Although vastly aiding the United States Postal Service in its time of need, it is nauseating to imagine the volume of money spent on this endeavor. Why, in an era of record-high student loan debt and unemployment, are colleges not reallocating these ludicrous funds to aid their own students instead of extending their arms far and wide to students they have never met?

I understand where the colleges are coming from. The precedent that schools should send mailings to students to “inform” them of what they have to offer has been set, and in this competitive world of colleges vying for the most applications, I only see more mailings to come in the future. It’s strange that the college process is always presented as a competition between students to get into the same colleges. It seems that another battle is also happening, where colleges are competing for the applications of the students.

High school seniors aren’t stupid. Neither are admissions offices. Don’t seniors want to go to school somewhere where they will fit and thrive and not just somewhere that is selective and will look good? Don’t applications offices want a pool of people who truly believe they would thrive in that college’s environment, and not have to deal with the many who thought those guys tossing the frisbee in the picture on the postcard they sent them looked pretty cool? I think it’s time to rethink what applying to college really means, for the folks on both sides, before we hit the impending boom in competition that I see coming. And let’s start by eliminating these silly mailings. Maybe we as seniors would then follow suit and choose intelligently where to apply.''

Katherine Landergan can be reached at klandergan@globe.com. For campus news updates, follow her on Twitter @klandergan.

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