How Social Media Can Revolutionize College Admissions

How It Used To Work

Rewind about 7-8 years and imagine you are applying to colleges for the first time. The process took months and included standardized tests on paper, handwritten applications, handwritten letters of recommendation, dozens of school catalogs being sent on an almost daily basis, and the all important acceptance (or denial) envelope.

The Current Situation

Now fast forward to present day and let’s see how the current college application process is being handled. (Spoiler alert: it’s not pretty.)

Standardized tests are still done on paper (#2 pencils, oy!), applications can be downloaded online and submitted online (huge improvement), letters of recommendation can be e-mailed but are usually recommended to be sent with a personally signed letter verifying its authenticity (not great), school catalogs are still clogging up mailboxes around the world (environmentally insane), and the college admissions offices are still hard to reach. Want to know the status of your application? It’s likely easier to call and have someone look up your file.

Social media has slowly been creeping into the admissions process, such as when a student had his scholarship and acceptance to Harvard taken back because of a Facebook update.

The Future Of College Admissions

So what can be done about this antiquated system? Plenty. We here at EduDemic have come up with a few simple, low cost, and effective ways to revolutionize the admissions office of any school.

What You’ll Need:

  • Someone willing to be ‘on call’ to answer questions posed by applicants online
  • A little bit of technical support if you have no clue what you’re doing online. By technical we mean someone who is a digital native or a frequent user of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. This should not be hard to find on a college campus.
  • The desire to engage with applicants

How To Kick Start Your Admissions Office (in order of difficulty)

[EASIEST] Start a facebook page. Your school probably already has a facebook page but it’s time to start a separate page for prospective students. It can be a simple page with just a Facebook wall and the settings set so anyone’s wall posts will appear on the wall. It’s quite simple. Just click here to start a page and promote the site on your school’s admission website. Offer to answer questions live during specific times of the week and then try hard to answer other questions within 12 or so hours. This is a simple, effective, and free solution to giving some transparency to the admissions process.

[EASY BUT CAN BE TIME CONSUMING] Create a specific Twitter account just for admissions. This is also a pretty simple method to gain interest from people who may not even be aware of your school. For example, your Twitter account could answer questions posed by random people you find on Twitter Search (search college admissions and you’ll find thousands of applicants) This can bring in people who may have never considered you and still may not apply…but they will likely retweet your answer / advice and this will gain you both followers and visibility.

The key to this tactic? Repetition. You MUST keep answering questions, helping out applicants, and being an active user of Twitter for your Twitter account to gain traction.

Don’t just start an account, play with it for a day, then assume it will run itself. Be proactive and it’ll pay off.

Admission events can even run using an iPhone app

[MEDIUM DIFFICULTY] Create live events using free streaming video services like UStream.tv. I used to work in a college admissions office and we were one of the first offices, to my knowledge, to create personalized videos for each admitted applicant. While a tremendous time sucker and expensive undertaking, the rate of students putting a deposit down (signifying they are coming in the fall) soared from about 45% to 68%. When polled later on and asked if the videos were effective, the results were overwhelmingly positive.

That was about 5 years ago. It’s now much easier to create videos and share them with the world. Simply start live Question & Answer video sessions using UStream or other streaming video services. If students can ask a question to an admissions officer and get a real-time, honest, and helpful answer from a real person…it would be big for transparency and the level of interest held by a student.

As an admissions officer, I also understand that the majority of people asking questions about college are parents. This is why systems like UStream are perfect since they’re extremely easy to use and interact with. By having a Q+A with both parents and students involved, your admissions office will be quite busy but the amount of phone calls (the most time-consuming task in the office) will dwindle. It’s important to share your recorded live Q+A sessions on your website so people with questions can view them and have their questions answered. Consider this extra effort as a means to save you stress in the long run.

[MEDIUM DIFFICULTY] Use Formspring.me to answer questions. Formspring has seen tremendous growth since its inception in 2006. It’s a question-and-answer service that allows anyone to log in, ask a question, and await a response.It’s been growing by leaps and bounds thanks to its ease-of-use. This translates to a great service even Luddite college admission officers can use.

Celebrities are using it, companies are using it, college admissions offices should be using it. For example, Lee Unkrich, the director of Toy Story 3 (and other Pixar films) has a Formspring account where he answers any question under the sun posed by an eager audience. He has established specific times that someone can expect immediate answers to any question he approves. Other well-known bloggers, like JGIWC, are active users of the site and have used it to really build a regular audience, filled with eager readers who want answers to some of their burning questions.

The best part is that the questions and answers are always archived and easy to see. It’s like an always-updating Frequently Asked Questions part of your website!

If you’re not into Formspring.me, Tumblr (blog service) has started rolling out a competing product. It’s looking to be quite useful and easy to use as well.

[HARDEST] Start your own social network using Ning or BuddyPress. We have a guide on this already, so be sure to check it out. The nuts and bolts are that you can have more oversight over the network, steer conversations, offer help and advice as an administrator, and be able to brand the entire experience.

Despite an announcement by Ning officials that an unnamed major education company would help keep the site’s most basic offering free for K-12 educators, many in the field were disappointed by the company’s decision to adopt a paid model.

“Educators are easily discouraged when it comes to technology,” said Thomas D. Whitby, who started a 3,700-member Ning site called The Educator’s PLN. Whether its free or not, Ning is still a useful solution to creating your own social network that is away from the public atmosphere of Facebook. It’s like a fire-walled version of Facebook that allows people to ask questions to just friends and professionals, rather than putting questions out into the mainstream social media stream and Google’s Universal Search.

Conclusion

Admissions offices should be doing, or at least considering, each of these items if they hope to reach their target demographic. That target is of course prospective students. That means they are digital natives who were born with a cell phone in their hand.

We here at EduDemic wish you the best of luck and are willing to help you out if you have any questions about how to undertake any of the above ideas. Just drop us a line at edudemic at gmail.com or pose your question in the comments below. After all, sharing is caring.

1 Comment

  1. mpstaton

    February 1, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Hi There. This is a good article to discuss the core principles and some to-dos.

    We've found that social engagement online is measurable and is a powerful indicator of intent to enroll. There may be great possibilities for Social Predictive Modeling.

    We build an alternative to BuddyPress specifically meant for college admissions, it's turnkey and there's no overhead. Feel free to check it out… http://www.inigral.com