THE BLOG
05/02/2016 03:13 pm ET Updated May 03, 2017

What to Do When College Marketing Materials Look the Same

A few weeks ago a couple I know asked me if I wanted to see the box of recruitment materials their son had accumulated over the course of his college search. Their son is a first-year student at a highly selective university in Nebraska now, but he did a national search, visiting public and private colleges, so naturally I was intrigued and wanted to see the overflowing box they'd kept around.

My enthusiasm was tempered somewhat as I thumbed through the brochures and noticed how similar everything seemed to be: the photos, the messages, and the feel.

Almost all of the viewbooks and other materials try to convince prospective students and families of the same things:

•We have a beautiful campus
•We are affordable
•We offer personal attention
•We are a diverse community, or, at least we value diversity
•Our faculty care
•Our graduates are successful

I found myself wondering, can this be true everywhere? I suspect it's not, but I understand why we all want to convince prospective students of these things.

To make sense of those things that everyone says, I'd like to offer three pieces of advice.

First, not all campuses are beautiful. I've seen some real dumps. You need to visit a campus to know what it's like. See it all, not just the most photogenic people and buildings.

Second, not all colleges are affordable. Some cost more than they are worth. Talk to someone who's recently graduated from that institution to ask them if their experience was worth it.

Third, not all faculty care. Many do. So to ensure the faculty in your intended area of study at the institution you'd like to attend care about students, meet them. Schedule time or ask to visit their classes. If they make time for you before you are even enrolled, you have a good sense about how they will treat you as a student.

This is the first in a series of short posts in which Kent Barnds will provide honest, candid insight into the college admissions process. Watch for more "True Admissions" from Barnds, and listen to his podcast on this topic.