It may not be surprising to find out that hiring managers are looking at your online profiles, but what about college admissions representatives? Social media tools and networking systems are making it more possible than ever for anyone who wants to find out about you to do so with a basic Internet search.
According to a 2011 Kaplan Test Prep survey of admissions officers at 359 colleges and universities, the use of social media as part of the admissions process is on the rise. This annual report found that "nearly a quarter (24%) of respondents from the schools surveyed have gone to an applicant's Facebook or other social networking page to learn more about them, while 20% have Googled them." These numbers show an increase from the 10% of schools reviewing applicants' online profiles in 2008.
On the admissions office side, conducting individual online searches can be time intensive. Checking every applicant's online presence is not the norm, and not all colleges are doing it, but it is growing in popularity and schools are likely to take a closer look at applicants if they receive a tip or if the applicant is brought to their attention for some reason.
While our first thoughts are often about how social media profiles can be full of negative information, keep in mind that these searches can be a positive thing, bringing an applicant's qualifications and potential to the attention of college recruiters and application reviewers.
You can find out more about the schools you are considering via social media as they become more active with their own accounts in an effort to promote their school programs and connect with prospective, current, and former students online. According to the Kaplan Test Prep report, Facebook (85%) and YouTube (66%) are two of the most popular tools schools are using to build virtual communities and make these connections. From the perspective of the applicant, reviewing the social media profiles of colleges and universities can be a time saver, providing answers to frequently asked questions about the school and the admission process. According to a 2010 survey of 1,000 college-bound high school students conducted by the higher education consulting firm Noel-Levitz, online access to information is very important to prospective students. This study found that 76% of students used Facebook and the same percentage "supported schools creating their own private social networks for prospective students." There is a growing expectation that schools will have a presence online not only with websites and videos, but also in social networking systems.
Consider the social media presence of your favorite colleges as another resource for information and assistance. School-sponsored accounts also provide a format and venue for online discussion and question and answer opportunities for students, even before they apply.
Berklee College of Music's Admissions Office is using Facebook and YouTube to present information about school activities and academic programs.
Murray State University's outreach to prospective students includes a video Campus Tour on YouTube as well as multiple Facebook and Twitter accounts focused on specific programs and student activities.
Walden University's Facebook page has over 18,000 fans and includes links to YouTube video profiles of current students and alumni. You can also get updates on school news via Twitter.
These are just a few of the ways in which higher education institutions are using social media to connect with prospective and current students, and alumni. As you review college accounts, look for news about upcoming events, and updates about a variety of topics including student life, organization and club activities, academic programs and courses, as well as faculty research and advising.
What we voluntarily post online about ourselves says something about us and also demonstrates technology, communication, and digital literacy skills. As you work through the process of evaluating, applying to, and selecting your school, there are a few steps you can take to prepare yourself, and your online presence, for the tasks ahead.
Do a little housekeeping. Google your name and see what comes up on the results page. Are there pictures or posts you need to delete? Do you have open accounts that you aren't really using? Take the time to manage the information that you are providing online, making sure that you are sending consistent and positive messages about yourself.
Check your settings. What you thought was private, may now be public as platforms continue to update their terms of service and setting options. You need to periodically go into each of your accounts to review these terms and confirm your settings. There are additional privacy considerations - if your account is private, but someone else posts something about you in their profile that isn't private, it may be found in a search. And if you become a "fan" of a school, they may then have access to your full profile depending on your privacy and account settings.
Consider your audience. It may be larger than you think.What things do you want your audience, particularly college recruiters and admissions counselors, to know about you? Focus on the positive and promote your strengths and accomplishments. You are beginning what will likely become a long-term online presence. As you build your digital reputation, do so thoughtfully and maintain it with your future goals in mind.
Participate in conversations with your favorite schools! Once you find these schools online and active in social media, don't stop there. Engage in ongoing conversations taking place in discussion forums and live chat sessions. These opportunities will help you make connections with admissions representatives, students, and alumni who are networking online.
So, what's the bottom line? Schools are looking for students that are a good match for their academic programs and you are looking for programs that are a good match for your education and career goals. Social media is just one way for schools and prospective students to make the connections and gather information to make the best decisions possible. Add these techniques to your overall college search strategy, along with campus visits (online and in person), interviews, and information fairs.
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