Admissions offices, students turn to social media to help with college choice

Compiled by Mandy Morgan

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4 2012 9:01 a.m. MDT

Universities and colleges across the U.S. are taking a cue from their students and investing more time using social media as a resource.

Associated Press

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Universities and colleges across the U.S. are taking a cue from their students and investing more time using social media as a resource.

Some 92 percent of undergraduate admissions officers say social media is worth the investment they have made in it, according to information gathered for an infographic by Online Colleges.

The influence social media has on college students is already well-known, and now schools are developing ways to reach students using that influence. Specifically, colleges are using social media as a recruiting tool to find and reach out to potential students.

As of August 2012, 85 percent of colleges said they use Facebook to recruit students, and 66 percent said they use YouTube as a recruitment tool. Along with this, one in three colleges reported social media was more effective than traditional media in reaching prospective students.

The question is no longer about whether colleges use social media, but which sites they will choose and how they will use them, Grant Greenwood, an admissions counselor at Hardin-Simmons University said. Greenwood conducted the research for a study in The Journal of College Admission about social media site usage by higher-education schools in the U.S.

"Prospective students are using these sites and have come to expect them in the recruiting process," Greenwood said in an article about the study at Inside Higher Ed, "and as a result, universities must be willing to adapt their efforts to satisfy these expectations."

Greenwood's study looked at the top 100 colleges and universities, ranked by U.S. News & World Report, to see how many social media sites they used and how they used them. Some 92 use social networking on their school websites, with the average number of sites being 3.7; one of the colleges uses seven social networking sites.

However, the number of sites a school uses doesn't mean they are effective in recruiting students, according to Gil Rogers, director of College Outreach for Zinch, an online service that helps with scholarship and school matching. Zinch also conducted a survey about social networking by colleges and the recruiting of students.

"While it might be free to create accounts on these new, popular social media sites, universities should focus recruitment efforts on where they're going to get the highest return on investment," Rogers said.

The study by Zinch, which surveyed more than 7,000 students, found that the the highest return from social media sites occurs when there is a focus on engagement between prospective students and the schools.

"Students want to be connected with other students," Rogers said.

There are six specific objectives colleges can use to reach prospective students through social media to heighten engagement during the recruitment process:

Making profile pages public forums to ask questions

Posting application deadlines and event dates

Posting of virtual tours of the campus for students who cannot visit in person

Posting information about academic programs so prospective students can learn about those they are interested in pursuing

Contests that may help students to become more engaged

Hosting video chats to share information face-to-face

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