A number of colleges, some obscure such as The College of St. Rose in Albany,NY , and others very well known, such as the University of Minnesota, are now sending out direct mail packages offering "no fee" college applications. Not only are the applications without a fee, they are also nearly completely filled out with the potential applicant's name and other relevant information. Therefore students who are interested in applying need to do little more than sign their name and mail the applications in. Colleges employing this strategy have seen a significant rise in applications.
Why are colleges doing this? And why now? Well, given the current state of the U.S. economy, many colleges are having difficulty getting enough students to apply. In addition, there is increased competition for ranking in the many college guides, including the US News and World Report's Annual College Rankings. Colleges that have significant increases in the number of applicants can improve their rankings in these publications.
Is this a good thing for students? That is a subject of debate. The direct mail firms that colleges hire to do these types of marketing campaigns stress that this is a way for them to help make students aware of the existence of certain colleges they might not otherwise know about. In addition, colleges report that this type of marketing campaign has helped them to increase diversity on campus across a number of dimensions, such as geography, gender, and ethnicity. However some critics argue that this may make it too easy for students to apply to college, thereby reducing the amount of time a student actually spends comparing colleges. Ultimately this could lead to a student applying to a college because it is easy, rather than looking for the best fit.
Time will tell if this is a trend that will last beyond the current economic slump. In the meantime, happy college hunting!