When I was in high school, most of us applied to only a few colleges. We were selective because the application process was daunting. Every college had their own unique application plus recommendations, essays and application fee. When it was done, we had a trip to the post office to mail it all off.
With the common application, it is easy for our kids to apply to multiple colleges. Teens fill out the information one time. Over 600 colleges accept the online common application. As you might expect, teens are applying to more colleges. 80% of applicants apply to 3 or more colleges and 32% apply to more than 7 colleges. With the increase in applications, colleges and universities are turning to social media to vet applicants.
Students’ Social Media Profiles
This week, Kaplan Test Prep released its annual survey of 400 college admissions officers in the United States. Kaplan found that the percentage of admissions officers who visited applicants’ social media pages hit a record high of 40%. While many admission officers visited an applicant’s page, they did not do it often. 89% reported that this is a rare event.
What triggers a search? While the reasons for a search often start out positive, the search does not always end well. While looking at an applicant’s social media profile, 37% of admission officers found something positive but an equal percentage found something that hurt admission chances.
Triggers for Web Search
Kaplan found these were the top reasons for going online to learn more about an applicant.
- Interesting Talent – This one is not surprising. Kaplan has mentioned this before in past surveys. What is interesting is that more and more applicants are inviting colleges to look at their Instagram or Facebook page to learn more about their talent.
- Prestigious Award – A particularly distinguished or noteworthy award can sometimes trigger an online search for verification.
- Special Scholarships – Students applying for special scholarships can come under greater scrutiny including online checking.
- Criminal Records or Disciplinary Action – If a student mentions a criminal record or disciplinary action in their application, admissions officers may look online for more details.
- Admissions Sabotage – Admission officers occasionally receive an anonymous tip about a prospective student’s inappropriate behavior. They may dig online to see if it has merit.
Colleges’ Social Media Profiles
Social media works both ways. While it is an important tool for vetting applicants, it is also the way applicants vet colleges. To identify and attract prospective students, admissions offices are launching social media campaigns. Most colleges have beautiful websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. A few have jumped on Snapchat and Instagram. Some colleges are using digital marketing techniques to target specific candidates.
Targeting Prospective Students
A crop of new marketing companies are focusing on designing marketing campaigns for colleges and universities. The same techniques businesses use to sell to consumers; colleges can employ to sell their programs to applicants. Instead of a generic mass mailing, an interested student can receive an ad or message designed just for them.
“Imagine a world where you know every time a prospective student is visiting your web site. You know when they’re visiting, what they’re looking at, and you can communicate with them at that precise time.” – CaptureHigherEd
Another way to track interested students is IP Targeting. Basically, the same technology that allows the dress you looked at a week ago to follow you around the web, allows a college to follow an interested student. When a students signs up at a college’s website to receive more information, colleges can use this information to locate the IP address, the unique address for a home computer or the home router. For example, Carnegie promotes IP Select an online marketing strategy in which home addresses are used to match to the home’s IP address. This means that schools can take specific lists of prospective students, use their home address to identify the IP address, and place targeted online marketing ads directly to the home computer.
Social Media & the College Application Process
Neither of these factors is sinister. Most of the time, admissions officer are going online based on something interesting and positive shared on the application. Instead of generic mailing, applicants can now receive information that is relevant to them.
What is important is teens are aware of how colleges are accessing them. Knowledge is key. Knowing how admissions works, teens can use social media to support their application process. If you have a sophomore or junior in high school, it is time to check their digital profile.
- Search their name online.
- Review their public profile with a critical eye.
- Remove questionable photos and posts.
- Add positive content.
- Follow colleges on social media & visit their websites.
- Think critically about their marketing materials.
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