The wired generation today is overwhelmed with college brochures through email and mail. Prospective students seek out social media networks to learn about the academic and social strengths of colleges. They want to take virtual on-campus tours, read student profiles, and speak and interact with current students. A study by Inigral and Zinch surveyed 7,000 college bound high school students. A reported 72% of incoming high school seniors have already researched their prospective colleges on a social media site. More important, nearly one-third of the students surveyed used social media when deciding where to enroll. Prospective students want the interaction that college brochures cannot provide.
The race to engage in social media networks has proven intense, with many colleges engaging in more than one network. A study in the Journal of College Admission evaluated the top 100 colleges and universities ranked by U.S. News & World Report. These schools on average used 3.7 social networks, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The most popular social networks need to be prioritized. In the Inigral and Zinch survey, Facebook has proven to be the most popular with 88% reporting they used the site, followed by 44% users for Twitter. If colleges desire to limit their social media presence to a couple of social networks, Facebook should take priority as 53% of reported high schoolers surveyed said they used it multiple times a day.
Merely having a Facebook page is not enough. Prospective students want as much information from current students as possible. Students want an honest perspective of the positives and negatives of the college, not found in mailed pamphlets. As a result, colleges and universities have been creative in attracting students. Princeton University has the "I Heart Princeton" video featuring students, faculty and alumni making a heart with their hands. Other universities have proven bold by letting current students take the field. At Johns Hopkins University, its social media website, Hopkins Interactive, provides uncensored information from current students about campus life and life in Baltimore, and includes student profiles of these writers, updated blogs and videos.
Although social media networks appeal to prospective students, parents are often the ones paying the tuition bill. Thus, social media networks do not substitute the pretty pamphlets received by mail. In 2010, Kaplan Test Prep surveyed admissions officers at 386 of the nation's top colleges and universities. The results found that 77% reported that parental involvement in the admissions cycle is on the rise. The so-called "helicopter" hovering over their child is prevalent and thus parental satisfaction of a college should be taken into account.
Parents are not the ones attending the college. While they often are left to pay the tuition bill no payments will be made if their child is not happy and will not thrive in the environment. Thus, catering to prospective students using social media platforms with uncensored information by current students at the college is the best tactic. A choice will be made if future students and current students are connected.