Selling Our Students

Has your child taken the PreACT, the ACT, the PSAT or the SAT? Have they filled out surveys at school with names like My College Options or Educational Research of America? Did they send in information to Who’s Who, the National Honor Roll or the National Society of High School Scholars? Do they participate in on-line lists, chat rooms, forums, message boards, blogs, newsgroups, games, quizzes, or contests? Have they applied for scholarships that required personal information? It is likely that their personal information is being shared regularly without their or your knowledge or permission.

When a student takes an SAT test, for example, the directions ask for students to provide such personal information as their religion and their parent’s income, and this is used by colleges which buy lists of students, a practice discussed in a recent Answer Sheet article: “How the SAT and PSAT collect personal data on students — and what the College Board does with it”. What is less known is the myriad of other companies that are collecting and disseminating this information and what they are doing with it.

The National Research Center for University and College Admissions, NRCCUA, collects information from students through their My College Options surveys. These surveys are sent to superintendents with promises to provide data on their students and help students find the best match for college. The information collected is sold to colleges and large numbers of profit and non-profit organizations that market to students. They also sell information to American Student Lists, a broker of student data.

Similarly, the Student Marketing Group gets their names largely from surveys distributed by Educational Research of America. SMG also gets personal information on students through its relationship with the National Honor Roll. NRCCUA has a similar connection to Who’s Who. The Student Marketing Group also owns the College Bound Selection Service, which states on their web site that they collect information from “your participation in games, quizzes, contests, chat rooms, forums or the like or other documents that you submit to us, transactions in which you may engage with us or our affiliated companies” collecting such information as “contact information (e.g., name and address), financial information (e.g., account and credit history), federal loan history information (e.g., loan amount, loan type, school and lender) or identifying information (e.g., social security number, date of birth) that we may obtain in connection with providing services.”

In the last few years, Alloy Direct Marketing has purchased both the Student Marketing Group and American Student Lists to become the biggest player in the student data market. They then split into three companies, Carnegie Communications, All Campus and ASL Marketing, the latter of which is the Google of student data collection and dissemination.

There have been many lawsuits against many of the companies mentioned for selling names without disclosing where they were going, including financial aid scammers. Now, each has a privacy statement in small print, accessed at the bottom of each web site, telling us that they are selling reams of personal information from minors to their “partners.” Much of it is collected by students in the pursuit of enticing vanity awards and “scholarships”, participation in online activity such as quizzes and games and through bogus “surveys”.

It is important that we take action to protect our children’s privacy. With the Congress recently allowing our Internet providers to share our browsing history without our permission, I am not hopeful that they will take action to suppress the collection and dissemination of personal information from minors without their parent’s permission. This makes it more important than ever to educate our children in how to prevent their personal information from being shared against their will.


Author: Scott White

I am a nationally recognized expert on college admissions, having worked in schools and colleges for 35 years. I have been regularly quoted in major publications including the NY Times, the LA Times, The Boston Globe, the Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly, Time Magazine and others. I am widely published on various aspects of the college admissions process and present at state and national conferences on a variety of college admissions related topics. I have worked in college admissions as well as independent day and boarding schools. The last 25 years I have worked in public schools, 14 as a school counselor and then as a Director of Guidance at elite, suburban public schools including Montclair High School, Westfield High School and Morristown High School. I am now an independent college counselor for SW College Consulting in Montclair. I can be contacted as or 973-919-6798.

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