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Colleges Look To Stand Out With Personalized Acceptance Notices


It's that time of year when high school seniors across the country finally learn whether they've been accepted to college. It's nerve-racking for the students, but also for the colleges because, now, they have to get the students to say yes to them. Colleges and universities are constantly looking for ways to set themselves apart, to the point of hand-delivering acceptance letters.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: On behalf of the entire community at Wheaton, we wish to extend an offer for you to become the first member of the class of 2019. Congratulations.

CORNISH: Last year, Wheaton College in Massachusetts hand-delivered a letter to one student. But as we read in the Associated Press, this year officials from Wheaton hand-delivered acceptance letters to 75 high school seniors. Dennis Hanno is the president of Wheaton College. He was out delivering letters just last week. Welcome to the program.

DENNIS HANNO: Glad to be here, Audie.

CORNISH: What was going through your head as you were, you know, walking up to the door and about to knock?

HANNO: Well, I must confess, at the first door, I was little bit apprehensive, wondering, you know, what if they slam the door on us?

CORNISH: (Laughter).

HANNO: What if they think we're a Bernie or Hillary team and don't open the door? And when the first door was opened, it was the mother of one of our accepted students, and she was beyond thrilled and just so excited - taking pictures of us - that it really did generate the excitement among the team I was with and, really, then led us to say, well, can't wait till the next house. So it was a lot of fun.

CORNISH: Oh, really? OK. But did you get any noes?

HANNO: We did not. We did not. You know, I went to 10 different houses. There were people at eight of the 10 houses. Six were the actual accepted students. The others were family members. And all eight were so excited, so thrilled and so impressed by the fact that members of our community came out to say hello and greet them.

CORNISH: I guess it's hard to say, no, you were my second choice to your face, right? (Laughter).

HANNO: It is, but, you know...

CORNISH: There's a little bit of psychology at work here, Dennis Hanno.

HANNO: Yeah, of course we did see some acceptance letters on the kitchen counter. You know, at a couple I said, we'll just have to push that aside, you know? Part of it is certainly giving them a memorable first introduction to Wheaton, but it also tells them something about this community. It really is about personalized education.

CORNISH: As we mentioned, you hand-delivered these acceptance letters to 75 high school seniors. I don't know how big your freshman class is. Was anyone left out? Like, how do you choose who gets the hand-delivered acceptance?

HANNO: Sure. That's actually just a pure matter of logistics. You know, we targeted - so we had 10 teams, so we targeted 10 geographic areas where we knew that, in about a three-hour period of time, we could hit 10 students each. So we were able to get in touch with and deliver letters to students in Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

CORNISH: So here's where I play devil's advocate because, you know, getting into college is a privilege and is exciting and probably doesn't need the extra pomp and circumstances. Why bring all of this, I guess, sweepstakes-like atmosphere to what should be a pretty simple and happy day?

HANNO: I guess if you look at it from the individual perspective, you know - and I - we have no idea. We can't really predict whether a student is going to come on the basis of this. But to be honest, if a student came just because we hand-delivered the letter, that may not be the student we'd want. We would hope they would come here because it's really the kind of place and the community they want to be part of. For me, it really has that dual-purpose of sending the prospective student a signal about the uniqueness and the personal nature of this place, but then also including all of our community in the process. And so, for me, you know, the pomp and circumstance, it was - it was fun. And I think, even if a student doesn't come here, they'll consider it as fun and a memorable experience.

CORNISH: President Dennis Hanno of Wheaton College, thank you so much for speaking with us.

HANNO: Well, thank you very much for having me, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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