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To Entice Students, a College Goes for the Nose

Yeats wrote that “loves comes in at the eye,” but Agnes Scott College is counting on the nose.

The women’s college, in Decatur, Ga., will soon mail a booklet containing scented pages to its 800 accepted applicants. The smell of pine accompanies a photograph of campus trees. A few pages later, an aerial shot of the Quad comes with a whiff of freshly mowed grass. The idea is to convey the experience of strolling through the campus, especially to students who have yet to visit.

ascRHB, a higher-education marketing company based in Indianapolis, proposed the use of scented varnishes as part of Agnes Scott’s yield campaign. At first, Laura E. Martin, vice president for enrollment, was skeptical. She recalled those infamous “scratch and sniff” books from her childhood: “I said, ‘Oh my God, is it 1979 again?’”

Ms. Martin’s younger colleagues were all for it, however. They considered using the scent of magnolia, a nod to the many magnolia trees on the campus, but something wasn’t right. “Someone said it smelled like their great-aunt,” Ms. Martin says. So pine and grass it was. And with scented varnishes, no scratching is required.

Olfactory stimulation is just one part of Agnes Scott’s spring pitch this year. Accepted applicants will also receive a pair of purple cotton gloves. The gloves are meant to protect students’ hands when ringing the bell in the bell tower, as seniors do upon receiving a job offer or an acceptance to graduate school. Students will also receive a small container of scented moisturizing cream created by an alumna who developed a line of skincare products with an Agnes Scott theme.

“It’s hard to convince women to come to an all-women’s college, so we have to stand apart,” Ms. Martin says. “We hope these tokens communicate some of the experiences you’re going to get here.”

Agnes Scott plans to e-mail students a description of the scented booklet ahead of time, so students know to get their noses ready. In the copy I received, the hints of pine and grass were subtle, the latter especially so. A few of my colleagues, sniffing away, said they could barely detect them.

In any case, I can only guess that many quintessential scents of college would never turn up in a marketing plan. “I’m pretty sure,” one colleague wrote in an email, “my alma mater would have smelled like stale beer.”

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