It's almost May 1 and deposits are rolling in at colleges across the country. The yield period has become an important part of my year even though I don't work in admissions. As our university's social media coordinator, this is a critical time in the year for me, too. I know students are watching, listening and deciding based on our posts and interactions. It's honestly one of the best parts of the gig.
That's why when I was perusing Twitter for the 127th time yesterday and came across this USA TODAY College article, "5 ways to use social media to choose a college," the social media nerd in me got excited to read it. "Am I making all of these things happen?" I thought before reading it. "Am I helping students in the ways they need to be helped?"
But by the end of the article, I found myself a little frustrated for the students who are really trying to look for ways to use social media in their college decision-making process. For me, I felt the list encouraged students to turn to social media in the eleventh hour to help them make a decision and that shouldn't be the case. While the writer made some good points about different sites to look through, here are some additional points I wish the article had mentioned.
Build Social Media into Your College Research at the Beginning
There are two points in the following sentence I want to emphasize: Students should be using social media as just one of the many tools in their arsenal during the entire college process.
I might be biased, but I'd tell prospective students to consistently check in with the colleges and universities they are interested in on social media throughout the 2+ years they are researching them. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to like a college's Facebook page or follow their Twitter account, but check in regularly to see what's going on - don't wait until April 1 when you have a month left to decide to start listening to what the college is promoting and doing on social media. Plus, if you're following along for a while, you'll be clued in to other really cool things the school is doing and might find a channel or avenue worth following before you make a decision.
Connect with Current Students
This is the first point the article makes and it's a good one, though I think it missed out on some key opportunities to mention some great ways to do this. Prospective students should be looking for ways that the colleges they are interested in are helping them connect. Just because a college hosts these things doesn't mean you're not getting an authentic view of life at that college. Painting the wrong picture for admitted students doesn't help them and it doesn't help the college.
Some great examples: I've been really impressed with how Connecticut College does this with @ConnCollegeLive, what St. Mike's does with their student blogs and Oberlin's most recent endeavor with a Google+ panel. It might take a little time and some research on websites and social media to find these types of outlets, but it's worthwhile if a student is able to make a connection.
Look for Ways to Connect with Potential Classmates
Is it important for students to get a "real" sense of campus life from current students? Of course. But it's the accepted students who will enroll and ultimately shape the next four years of the college's story who are really important. Get to know them.
By now, a lot of colleges and universities are creating class hashtags on Twitter and open, closed and private groups on Facebook. Some schools are even creating their own homegrown communities for accepted students. Once a student is accepted to a college or university, they should search for these groups and opportunities.
One thing I loved about our closed incoming group was that one of the first posts by an admitted student was a "10 fun facts about myself" and now everyone does it when they join. This happened organically and some posts have 40+ comments of students talking with each other about similar interests. This is their space to get to know each other - after all, these are the people they'll be spending the next four years with!
Throughout the college search process, ask questions. Do it on social media, during your interview, during your campus tour and continue doing it until you don't have any more. If a prospective student is still trying to make a decision with 24 hours to go, they can reach out on social media or call the Admissions office and see if they can help. Don't be afraid to do this - we all want to help students make the best decision for themselves. [Side note: My best advice is to go with your gut instinct.]
Our incoming class has seen it all from colleges and universities when it comes to marketing and social media. What resonated with them? What helped as they researched? What didn't? What was missing? I work at a small school and am hopeful when the Class of 2017 arrives in August I'll find students interested in social media who might have some thoughts on this.
My note to admitted (and future) students: If you choose a school but wasn't overly impressed with their social media presence as you researched them, try and find the social media manager on campus when you arrive and talk to them. I'd set aside hours to hear from you about your thoughts and I'm betting others would, too. We're always looking for ways to make it better, and who knows? Your efforts to reach out and offer up your insights might land you some cool opportunities on campus. I'd add you to my student social media team in a heartbeat.
Did you think something was missing from the USA TODAY College article? What's missing from mine? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.