By Juaquin, IvyWise Master College Admissions Counselor
The tools students employ today to research colleges are much different from the days of paper applications and slick, glossy brochures. When it comes to recruiting students, colleges are keeping up with social media, and other online tools, in order to market themselves, and students need to know what sources to trust – and how to evaluate the information presented to them.
Colleges are trying to keep up with the times, and for most that means using social media and technology to stand out to students. For example, colleges are introducing virtual reality programs for prospective and current students. Other schools are using Instagram to show off campus life and Snapchat to showcase school newspapers, or even release admission decisions. But, ultimately, a student should have a balanced set of sources, both online and more traditional methods, in order to gain an objective and broad understanding of the schools they’re considering.
Colleges are using social media to entice students to apply and enroll at their schools. Because colleges are concerned with their rank, they have to manage their yield and retention rates, which are important factors in determining a college’s spot on rankings lists like US News & World Report. Colleges with a higher percentage of students matriculating and returning for sophomore year are ranked higher than those with lower yield and retention rates.
An abundance of information on colleges is readily available at your fingertips, but don’t rely solely upon social media for your research. I recommend students navigate multiple sources when researching their schools.
First, Know What To Look For
To begin, set parameters and know what factors matter most to you. Consider things like academics, atmosphere, cost, and location.
If you’re just starting out, your parameters might be more general, and you can use the college’s website for facts, such as student enrollment, departments, majors, student activities, and admission requirements. Reflect on what you know from your high school experience. Do you have an affinity for a specific subject or course? What did you like and dislike about the classes or curriculum of your high school? Some colleges don’t have a core curriculum and allow you to cross register while others might have more structured requirements. Take charge of this process and start making broad decisions about the types of curricula and student activities that are “musts,” or even how far away from home you’ll be comfortable going.
As your college process evolves, be aware of the factors that matter most to you; they will help you eliminate schools not meeting your criteria and keep the ones that do on your list. In order to finalize your college list, you’ll need to thoroughly research schools.
Vet Your Sources
This is where the popularity of social media comes into play. 71% of teens say they use multiple social media sites, with Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat being the most popular. Colleges are going where the teens are, and with most of these students already using these platforms, it’s easy to hit “follow” and get a steady stream of information and images related to colleges without having to seek it out yourself. But remember, you’re only getting one side of the story. Colleges are controlling what messages they are sending out, so there’s a built-in bias. The same applies to information in emails, mailers, and colleges’ websites.
Just as colleges reach out to you, it is equally important that you proactively seek out information as well from a variety of sources. Social media is good place to start – one of my student athletes follows the college cross-country team on Instagram and others use the college’s website, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat to learn more about the schools they’re interested in. But it’s just that – a start. Whichever source you choose to research your schools, consider the source and any bias. We’ve all seen the picturesque photos every college has on their website and social media, so when researching online you should also consult non-school affiliated websites like College Board and Unigo.
Visiting a prospective college is one of the most helpful resources in selecting the appropriate college and getting a “feel” for the campus. The best way to find out about a college is to visit when classes are in session. Online sources cannot give you a real feel of the atmosphere of the school. You need time to ask questions of admission officers, take a tour, and walk around campus to speak with students and faculty. While nothing takes the place of a campus visit, I always recommend perusing non-biased paper sources like the Fiske Guide to Colleges, Colleges That Change Lives, and local publications covering campus news. Your research should be diverse to give you a complete picture of the college.
While researching colleges today might look vastly different from years before, choosing the college that’s right for you involves being aware of the type of environment that will allow you to grow and learn. The college admission process is about making decisions, and you should use a variety of tools and resources when researching colleges in order to help you investigate whether or not a college is a good-fit for you – not just social media.
At IvyWise we have a team of expert counselors who are familiar with a variety of institutions in the US and abroad, and can help students effectively research and build a balanced college list of best-fit schools. Independent research, both online and off, is important to the college search process, but guidance from an expert counselor can help students to identify colleges of interest that they would not have otherwise considered. For more information on how IvyWise can help you find the best-fit schools to apply to, contact us today.