Essential Information for the College Bound -- Fall 2009


Univ. of Colorado


Univ. of Chicago
Carleton College

Colleges Learn to Live with Social Media

Which School?

You will live with the answer
the rest of your life.

Taking The Next Step
12904 Mizner Way
Wellington, FL 33414

For the past year I have been wrestling with my concerns about the exposure that individuals face when jumping into social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogs --- they have lifted the veil of privacy. I have agonized over the possibility that some of my clients would be caught "out there" with entries that would boomerang if a college admissions office chose to check them out. And certainly, colleges seem to do so, judging by the sad tales I have heard of students being rejected because of entries found in the social media.

Recently, however, I have been intrigued to see that the two-sided mirror reflects both ways, as some college admissions offices are creating their own Facebook pages. Prospective students can friend individual students at colleges on Facebook, whether or not the college establishes an official admissions page. There are even instances where students have friended admissions officers. Jeannine Lalonde, Assistant Dean of Admission at the University of Virginia, notes that she is "on Facebook, Twitter and the Blog. The important aspect of my presence is that I'm not searching students out. They decide how they want to get in touch with me. The contact is on their terms".

And many more colleges are creating student blogs in an effort to enable prospective students to gather information about varied aspects of a school. AT MIT student blogs can be found on the institute's home page along with responses from prospective students. While MIT pays its bloggers $10 an hour for up to four hours a week, all entries are unedited. There are a number of college blogs that have no official status. While college admissions officers recognize such openness as a potential risk, most of the blogging seems positive.

Beyond the splendid printed marketing materials that colleges still distribute, beyond the captivating websites that often include clips of satisfied students, beyond the video sites that present video tours of collective colleges, social media seems to offer an opportunity for prospective students to hear unvarnished observations about the college they might attend. This touch of reality, this access to information that is responsive to the individual, goes a long way toward discovering whether a given college is a good match.

Some of these considerations were driven home to me when I met with an admissions officer from Eckerd College, recently. Eckerd, a small private college in Florida, has done a big job to bring the school to life through social media. Its blog, www.eckerdlife.com, presents " . . . a peek into the lives of a few students at various stages in their Eckerd journey. Their musings provide an inside look at dorm life, classes, professors, and just about everything else." What an effective way to bring a small, regional college to life for those who might not know a great deal about it and might not have the ability to travel to the campus for an onsite visit.

I am ever eager to help my counselees dig deeply enough to decide why a college is or is not potentially suitable for them. To be sure, I have found that there is nothing to take the place of a visit to a college. I am delighted to hear the feedback following visits and to see how much clarity has been gained as to whether and why a school should be considered for application. However, traveling to colleges can be costly, and at times not possible. So this brave new world does lend a way to compensate for the visits not taken.