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College Admissions and Social Media: What’s Really Going On?

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Social media is taking the world by storm. It seems like everyone from grandmothers to grocery store chains have Facebook pages! Colleges and universities have followed suit, using Facebook and Twitter to promote their schools, communicate with potential students, solicit alumni and friends for donations, and “check up” on applicants.

College Admissions Officers Admit to Peeking at Facebook Pages

Of the 453 colleges and universities across the United States surveyed during a 2008 social media study conducted by the UMass Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, 26% reported using search engines to research potential students online while 21% were using social networks such as Facebook and MySpace to learn more about applicants.

“The results are conclusive. Social media has arrived in college admissions,” said Nora Barnes, Director of the Center for Marketing Research and a professor in the UMass Dartmouth Charlton College of Business. “While certainly the traditional factors will still play dominant roles in selecting applicants for admission or rejection, students need to understand that their social network sites are being examined by colleges and universities. The content of their sites could have far-reaching effects on their academic futures if they are not careful.”

Kaplan College Admissions Survey

A 2008 Kaplan survey of 320 admissions officers from some of the nation’s top colleges and universities revealed that one out of ten admissions officers has visited an applicant’s social networking website as part of their admissions decision-making process.

Although one-quarter of the officers who reported viewing applicants’ sites say that the viewings generally had a positive impact on their evaluation of the student, a greater percentage—38 percent—reported that applicants’ social networking sites have generally had a negative impact on their admissions evaluation.

“The social networking frontier is a bit like the Wild West for colleges and universities—everyone is trying to figure out how to navigate it,” were the thoughts of Jeff Olson, Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions’ Executive Director of Research. “The vast majority of schools we surveyed said they have no official policies or guidelines in place regarding visiting applicants’ social networking web sites — nor are they considering plans to develop them.”

Colleges Using Social Media Platforms

So other than occasionally checking out applicants’ profiles, what are colleges doing with social media?

Some are exploring the possibilities of social networking for rounding up donations from alumni, retaining students who are enrolled and other central tasks, according to Inside Higher Ed.

“I think one of the mistakes a lot of universities make is not having a very clear mission for what they’re trying to do with social media,” Daniel Grayson, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Tufts, told Elizabeth Schiffman at AOL’s Politics Daily. “Our goal is to create a place for dialogue between admitted students and current students, and then get out of the way.”

Some colleges and universities have embraced social media with systems similar to Facebook that were designed in-house. The sites fuse social networking functionality like “walls,” “friends” and photo galleries to more traditional alumni databases. For example, students admitted to Rutgers University receive e-mail invitations to join Go Rutgers, the school’s privately hosted social network.

A Break from Facebook

Some high school students opt to make their Facebook pages private while they deal with the college application process and others decide to take a total hiatus from the social media mega-site. Not only can your Facebook profile possibly portray a “you” that colleges might not understand or appreciate, the site can eat up a lot of time.

Two juniors at San Francisco University High School made a pact to help each other resist the lure of logging in to Facebook. “We decided we spent way too much time obsessing over Facebook and it would be better if we took a break from it,” one told the New York Times in 2009.

Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and director of the Initiative on Technology and Self at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discusses teenagers who take breaks from Facebook. Turkle told the New York Times that one 18-year-old boy she knew opted to spend his entire senior year off of Facebook while completing a college application. He was burned out by trying to live up to his own descriptions of himself. “Facebook wasn’t merely a distraction, but it was really confusing him about who he was.”

Use Facebook to Find Your Roommate

On a side note, Facebook is now helping new college students find their freshman roomie.

This past summer, incoming freshmen at Emory University, the University of Florida, Temple University, Wichita State University, and William Paterson University of New Jersey could use the Facebook app RoomBug to fill out forms about their living preferences and the qualities they’d like to see in a roommate, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Over a quarter of the University of Florida’s incoming freshmen added the Facebook application and the Gainesville Sun reports that nearly 1,500 UF students used RoomBug to find their roommates for the fall 2010 semester.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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Shreail almost 8 years ago Shreail

I agree that institutions need to clarify the objective(s) for using social media like Facebook. Our college has a Facebook page and we use it to invite our students to SGA meetings and club activities, as well as, to inform them of events happening around campus.