Social networking tools, such as Facebook, blogging and Twitter, are fast becoming an integral part of college admissions around the country as students communicate with schools in the way that has become second nature to them.
More than 60 percent of schools are now using social media to recruit and contact students, which is a huge jump in just a few years, according to a survey done for the National Association of College Admissions Counseling.
And just about every college and university in New Jersey has recently started or is planning to launch some sort of social media campaign, from “live chats” online to Twitter updates and video campus tours.
Applicants to the University can now use videos submitted via Facebook — in lieu of essays — to tell the school why they should be accepted.
Online groups set up by Drew and Seton Hall Universities lets those admitted get to know each other before they ever set foot on campus, and Rutgers University freshmen are blogging for prospective students on school-sponsored sites. “It’s the new and best thing, and you have to do it unless you want to look antiquated,” said Peter Nacy, Vice President of undergraduate admissions at Seton Hall.
Last year, Seton Hall’s admissions office put up a Facebook page for freshmen enrolling in the class of 2013, offering notices, news and a chance to interact with other students. The site grew quickly and now has nearly 850 members, out of a class of 1,140. “It doesn’t take long at all when you put yourself out there,” Nacy said.
Storm Wycke used such connections in making her decision about where to enroll. She corresponded with current and prospective students and got a virtual feel for the half dozen schools to which she’d been accepted.
Schools, and different groups and departments within those schools, have set up myriad Facebook groups over the last few years, everything from pages for math majors to alumni. Now, despite some hesitation, admissions offices are getting into the act.
Within the past couple of months, Montclair State University’s admissions office has launched a Facebook page and opened a Twitter account, said Jason Langdon, Admissions Director.
“Students are so used to communicating this way,” he said. “It’s their channel. We want to interact with them.”
Maintaining the networks is labor intensive. It often requires additional staff charged with monitoring the sites daily and responding to inquiries and posts. Some admissions staffers have said they feel uncomfortable with the casual nature of conversation the medium engenders.But for the most part, it looks like online social networks are taking their place as a tool in recruiting and admissions.
Companies have sprung up on the Web that help students create online profiles suitable for admissions to help colleges reach out to students via social networking sites.
“By next year, college admissions officers won’t be able to ignore this anymore,” said Kristen Campbell, a director for Kaplan Test Prep. She said there has been a major shift among students as well. In the past, some were upset that admissions officers might see their personal Facebook pages, which are often a place for party pictures and off-color banter. Now, more students are reaching out to schools via Facebook.
“They’ve gone from being leery to thinking about it in a more savvy way,” Campbell said. “They think ‘Why not use Facebook to help me sell myself?'”
Kaplan found that 71 percent of admissions officers surveyed reported that they had been “friended” by prospective students. Once someone accepts your friend request, they generally have access to your online profile. Prudence remains a good rule of thumb, experts say.
“It would be important for students to keep in mind that we do have access to their accounts once they’ve friended us,” said Lauren Vento Cifelli, Admissions Director at the University. “They should present themselves in a positive way on these pages.”
Some local admissions staffers said they likely wouldn’t look at an applicant’s Facebook page, but the prohibition is by no means universal. Nationally, about a quarter of admissions officers reported using search engines and social networking sites to check out candidates for scholarships or entry into selective programs, the college counseling group found. Only about 13 percent of schools have actual policies on the issue, Campbell said.
“A vast majority of schools are still trying to figure it out,” she said. “In many ways social networking is the frontier, the Wild West.” Though Facebook has become the predominant social networking site, some admissions offices are holding off for now. “We haven’t found a huge desire for students to communicate with admissions through Facebook, it’s more that they’re connecting with other students,” said Jon Wexler, admissions director at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
But Wexler and admissions officers at Ramapo College and William Paterson University said they are all exploring the use of sites such as Facebook. At Rutgers, there are several Facebook pages for the University but none specifically for admissions. “We are unconvinced that this is the main way our population does college searches,” said Lee Ann Dmochowski, senior admissions officer. “We’re going to go for quality contacts versus that brain candy that is Facebook.”
The office has opted for other social media, however. Rutgers student bloggers went live last month as members of the class of 2013 talk online with the prospective students in the class of 2014. The blogs now get more than 100 hits a day, Dmochowski said.
Monmouth admissions has embraced social media in a big way, and in late 2008 began a presence on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and Ning, another social networking site.
The University recently announced it would allow students to make the optional video submission via Facebook, although none has yet been received, said Cifelli, the admissions director. “Monmouth wanted to bring part of the application to them using a medium they are comfortable with. We’re excited to see how a student presents themselves, sells themselves,” she said. “But grades in high school remain the most important factor.”
Indeed, the experts say the medium would never supplant the staples of selection: grades and test scores. Said Campbell: “At the end of the day, being a Facebook friend with a college admissions officer is not going to make up for weak academics.”