Death of the college brochure

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

They’re about as ubiquitous in the college admissions process as standardized tests, letters of recommendation and essays about teen tours to Israel.

I’m talking, of course, about college brochures.

They start rolling in sometime after the PSAT in early sophomore year, building up steam over the next 18 months and culminating in the marketing onslaught during the height of the senior year Admissions Hysteria. There are stock photos of students eagerly raising their hands in class and Birkenstock-clad slackers throwing around a Frisbee on the Arts Quad.

Colleges and universities spend millions of dollars producing and mailing these slick brochures each year, stuffing student mailboxes and — more often than not — wasting every penny.

There had to be a better way to connect with applicants, right? Not until last week.

That’s when Yale released its High School Musical-inspired “Why I Chose Yale” viral video on YouTube. Featuring current students and recent alums, the video was produced in-house on a shoestring budget. The end-result is slick and highlights top-notch facilities, programs — and even a cameo from Brian Williams, whose daughter is a Yalie.

And if the goal was to increase awareness, it has certainly been a success: with 300,000 views, articles in the New York Times and Washington Post and hundreds, if not thousands, of mentions in the blogosphere (including the one that you’re reading now).

Of course, some of the lines are difficult to digest with a straight face. It’s hard not to gag as one student sings: “Last year, I spent the summer abroad / I helped to monitor a foreign election / And now I volunteer at a law school clinic on human rights protection.”

But it’s a striking example of innovative, outside-the-box marketing that is engaging, speaking to consumers in a language they understand — and, given the number of views, clearly working.

It could also very well be the beginning of the long overdue death of the college brochure.

Amazing that it took until now.

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