Would it surprise our readers to know that a college touts its indoor plumbing in its marketing materials to encourage high schoolers to apply? If so, maybe the college brochures haven’t begun arriving on your doorstep quite yet…because they are often filled with attempts (both successful and not) at humor. And why shouldn’t they be? Colleges pay organizations like College Board quite a bit of money to buy names and contact details in order to send their marketing material to prospective students. So when they do send these materials, they might as well try to stand out from all of the other schools that are buying these same names. And that might very well mean that a university will tout its indoor plumbing. Hey, indoor plumbing’s important!
Colleges Using Humor in Marketing Materials
As reports Scott Jaschik in an excellent piece for “Insider Higher Ed” entitled “If You Make Them Laugh, Will They Apply?,” Macalester College has long sent a letter to prospective students that poses the question, “Which of these would you expect to find at one of the best liberal arts colleges?” Answers include: “academic challenge,” “classmates from more than 90 countries,” “true love,” “not one, but two great cities,” “the meaning of life,” “bagpipes,” and “indoor plumbing,” among a host of other items. While it’s certainly not out loud funny, we appreciate Macalester’s silliness. As Jaschik writes, “In an interview, [Macalester College Vice President for Admissions and Financial Aid Jeff] Allen said that he thinks it does [work]. He said he can’t demonstrate conclusively that it attracts applicants, but many applicants (and parents) comment on it and say that the letter stands out, referencing it in subsequent discussions.”
Just as applicants to highly selective colleges must stand out in the admissions process, so must colleges. Colleges are businesses. Students are the customers of colleges. And while our readers know all too well that receiving college brochures is absolutely no indication of a college’s interest in offering you admission (they are only an indication that a college wants you to apply — and they want everyone to apply to boost their application numbers and lower their admission rates!), they’ll try any trick in the book to encourage you to submit that application. That includes humor…even if a school has to make a bathroom joke.