Part 1: The T-Shirt Project

By Austin Hill Reporter

It all began last May when one day I received some random postcard from some random college. I received a fair amount of assorted junk mail from universities nationwide, presumably from all the various sites I signed up for, neglecting to read the terms. Instead of glancing over the mail and tossing it in the recycle like usual, I opened up this card, sent from Illinois Wesleyan University, and saw that I had been entitled to a free T-shirt, and all that was required of me was to go to their site and enter the promotional code given to me.

Skeptical yet intrigued, I went on to the site, entered the code, followed by my T-shirt size and mailing address, and bam, it was shipped. The task seemed just too extraordinarily simple and aberrant, and as the aphorism states “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” However the screen said that the shirt was on it’s way, so I thought, if they really sent out shirts this carelessly, then are there other colleges that do this as well?

>>Read Part 2: The Cat’s Out of the Bag

And so I researched. Although I found no hits of colleges giving shirts for those  mundanely entering a code, there was another means of getting sent free shirts that had been discovered. I pondered upon an article that describes the actions one person took that resulted in nearly a thousand shirts. His genius scheme consisted no more of sending every college in the U.S. emails requesting a shirt; And it worked. However the article presented one problem: it took place over ten years ago. With that in mind, I continued scouring the web, only to find a recent story of a school teacher who gathered a much more modest number of shirts (about 20) for her high school’s college fair. Now assured that colleges are still willing to send contributions, I started crafting my inquiry.

I really didn’t know what to say or what to include, but I knew I had to obscure the request somehow, giving them a reason to send me a shirt other than I just want free stuff. I considered  how it might be advantageous to them, and decided on the premise that I was a prospective college student interested in their institution, and I yearned for a shirt to promote their name and school pride. It seemed foolproof; It was a win-win situation after all.

Of course it’s never that easy, or else everybody would be doing it. I started sending out emails that night by replying to all the colleges that spam my inbox, but with little success. I woke up in the morning to about a half dozen rejections, accompanied with links to their school bookstore to buy it for myself. I realized that I had run out of colleges to reply to, and I still was not promised a single shirt. I retreated back to the internet to find that a majority (and with my experience about 70-80%) of colleges’ emails composed of: admissions@ the url of their official website. And so it really began.

I planned to go through the colleges by region, going from the east to west coast, state by state. Naturally I started with Ohio. I’d say I sent around 50 emails that second day, and was met with staggering defeat. Maybe one school said that they would send a shirt, and about 20 started with the word “unfortunately.” With the sluggish rate at which I could crank out emails it took about two hours to achieve an inane rate of success that was minuscule compared to the approximate 25% of t-shirt guy. Some colleges informed me that there were numerous requests for shirts, too many for them to honor. So it was apparent that many others were taking the same journey as me, and whether they were able to obtain any results I don’t know, but I only saw it as competition rather than a hindrance.

My immediate failure led me to the awareness that I would have to separate myself from the rest of these con artists if I were to have any prosperity of my own. I would have to compel that person behind the computer screen to take time out of their day and resources from their school because they absolutely had to send this kid a shirt. But of course, this person could be anybody, and to appeal everyone would be impossible. I had to give them some sort of compensation, or perhaps extra incentive that no one else asking for free shirts is offering. And then I had possibly the greatest idea of my life.

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