Incentives Colleges Use to Get You In Their Doors

I spent the summers before my junior and senior years of high school touring college campuses along both coasts. By the time I came home, I was so loaded with packets, pamphlets and course catalogs that I was overwhelmed. As much as applications are a chance to sell yourself to the admission committee, colleges are equally pressed to sell themselves in order to score record numbers of applications each year and make sure that students enroll. Here's a quick rundown of the selling tactics that schools use—and the schools that use them: Tactic: Quirkiness Who: MIT, Stephens College, UC Berkeley These schools like to show how off-the-beaten-path they are, offering new perks such as pet-friendly dorms and annual (and odd) traditions like MIT's famous 'hacks''—which they describe on their website as ''clever and elegant pranks showcasing the inventive spirit of MIT. '' These are the schools that try to appeal to students who will make up a unique student body.

Tactic: Low costs Who: Drew, Rutgers, University of Connecticut This is a new tactic given the current economy. Just like a sale at your favorite clothing store, schools are offering deep discounts in order to entice more students to enroll during the summer terms. During the year, a lower tuition also influences applicants—one student chose UConn over the Ivy League UPenn, citing costs.

Tactic: Hardcore sports Who: USC When you tour colleges you can often tell how big the sports scene is on campus. There's a great sense of campus unity, as everyone gets painted and revved up to attend all of the games together.

College tours and brochures are as much ads as they are informative. How do you navigate them when it comes to choosing the right school? Just remember to take every too-good-to-be-true tidbit with a grain of salt. Tours are also a good way to get a feel of the campus. (Check out our article on what to look for during a college visit). When I stepped foot onto the college I now attend, something just clicked (even though I walked out of the tour). All the brochures in the world can't make you feel like a school is the right one once you get there.

Photo: Dilip Vishwanat for The New York Times