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SAT (AKA: College Board) Changes How They Market to Students

As of 2019, a student’s name was sold to colleges, on aver­age, 18 times over their high school career, and some names have been purchased more than 70 times—all at a cost now of 53 cents. Search changed during the pandemic as fewer students took the standardized tests, and during this past admissions cycle, the College Board introduced subscription-plan pricing on top of per-name pricing.

Now the student search business is about to change again—in a much bigger way that might be good for students, but maybe not so good for many colleges. The change is coming because the PSAT is going digital this fall, followed by the SAT in the spring.

How test-taker names will then be shared with colleges depends on where students take the test. According to the College Board, 60% of all students who take the SAT do so during the week in school. When students used a No. 2 pencil to take the test, as long as the students opted into marketing when filling out the SAT questionnaire, their information could be licensed to colleges.

But once the test shifts to digital means and is administered during the school day, privacy laws in a bunch of states come into play. As a result, the College Board can’t simply pass names on to colleges without essentially a second opt-in by students. So, the College Board created another search product called "Connections."

As Eric Hoover recently explained in The Chronicle of Higher Education (registration required), here’s what will happen: Students…will be asked to share their cell number with the College Board, which will then text them a link to download an app called BigFuture School, through which they can get their scores and see some general advice about applying to college. Students will then be able to opt into Connections, which will be loaded with profiles of colleges that are—you know it—interested in them.

By opting into Connections, students will not be transmitting any personally identifiable information (PII) to colleges. All that an institution will know about them at that point is which “audiences” they fall into: when they will graduate from high school, which of 29 geographies they live in, and the range in which their test score falls. Colleges will be able to share general messages with students from a specific audience.

Students can then choose when, or if, to share their personal information with a particular college. Doing so will turn on the ol’ recruitment fountain.”

Students who take a Saturday SAT will be able to opt into the traditional search like they did in the past. So, too, will those who create a College Board account or register with BigFuture, its college-search site.

As The Chronicle’s Hoover noted, students could end up in both buckets (traditional search and Connections).

Confused yet? Wait until college marketing offices start to work through this thicket next year. The impact on how colleges recruit—and thus how much marketing teenagers get and then where they apply and enroll—could be significant.

Overall, CollegeVine estimates somewhere around a 40% reduction in the number of student names available to license by the time the high-school class of 2027 is in the funnel—which, by the way, is also the time of a demographic cliff in the number of high school graduates.

Get ready for a double-whammy colleges.

Estimate is the key word there because no one really knows how students will react to this new marketing funnel.

Still, as even Eric Hoover put it in The Chronicle, if you know teenagers “it’s easy to imagine that many of them will delete…or ignore” the College Board app after getting their test scores. Perhaps knocking the College Board from its dominant position in student search might not be a bad development. For one, it will likely reduce the number of mailings and emails that students get from colleges they have no interest in applying to—or those institutions that have no intention of accepting them. It could also accelerate alternative ways of connecting to students, such as direct admissions. No matter what, students and colleges should get ready for a major upheaval in how they find each other not seen since the days of Bill Royall’s direct-marketing approaches in the 1980s.

Reeder Consulting: College and Career Paths is a specialist in the career development field and the #1 career counseling company in San Antonio, TX working with clients in all 50 states. We help individuals engage in career and aptitude testing to process information through meaningful conversations and give clarity to the stress of career decisions to Proceed with Confidence.


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