Some people tell me I’m a deep thinker, but that may be a shallow thought. After all, I almost chose my college on the basis of a t-shirt.
I was a senior at Midwest City High when I visited OSU’s campus. Impressed as I was with the place, I was more impressed with this one great orange and black tee. So I thought I should go where they have such cool shirts.
Alas, it lost its allure in a couple weeks, and I decided instead to go further south to the red-and-white school and see what their shirts looked like.
Apparel aside, the deciding factor proved to be my sister C.J. who was a counselor (can’t use that term anymore) in an OU women’s dorm (which are mostly coed these days), and she convinced me I could meet more girls there with her help than by hanging out alone in Stillwater.
Turns out she was right. But the point is I didn’t make my choice of schools for the best of reasons.
An online gold mine of data
Today many high school students are making their own decisions – based on better criteria than mine – in the virtual world of the Web 2.0 media, better known as Facebook and Twitter. And, in turn, college admissions offices are getting to know more about applicants that way, too. I’ll leave the second half of this idea for the next post and deal with the first thought now.
The Boston Globe’s Peter Schworm wrote in 2008 that college admissions officers were shifting their attention toward the social media, planting their college flags (along with videos and blogs) on the Web and especially on Facebook.
Makes sense, because that’s where the high schoolers are, so why not hang out among them?
“Higher ed is really trying to embrace it on all fronts,” said Nora Barnes, director of the Center for Marketing at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, to Schworm. “There’s no doubt that’s where their audience is.”
In fact, researchers at that school discovered that universities were adapting to internet technologies even faster than Fortune 500 companies.
And that was two years ago.
Fast-forward to today and it’s even more apparent how much today’s colleges have moved their show to the social media. The university where I teach, California’s Azusa Pacific University, is a case in point. On its home page at www.apu.edu, you don’t have to scroll down far to find the tell-tale icons of the APU Blog, Facebook, Flickr, iTunes U, Twitter, and YouTube.
This private university of some 10,000 students has gone out to meet prospective students where they live in the virtual world.
That’s where the customers are
David Peck, APU’s associate vice president of university relations, says this all just makes good sense.
“The use of social media represents more than just a way to chat with friends,” he says. “It’s changing the game for the academy. At APU, we use social media as a way to engage people and get them involved. It’s about creating dialogue and through these tools (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, etc.), we can learn what the APU community is thinking, solicit feedback, and respond to concerns.
On Facebook, universities like APU see students asking questions about majors, life on campus, financial aid, and other topics, according to APU staffer Allison Oster. These students begin to create communities with one another and with the university before they ever set foot on the physical campus. They can meet other potential students, or even meet their future roommate if they’ve been matched by the Student Housing Office with someone they don’t know.
Sharing the excitement
Oster said some newly accepted students visit the APU FAcebook page just to share their excitedment when they receive their acceptance letter.
“In fact, we’ve found that many people are going to Facebook first to ask question, and not checking the university website for answers,” Oster says. “Perhaps they are looking for third-party endorsements, or trying to discover if the information is ‘more real’ through Facebook. And while we do have a number of people on staff who follow along with those conversations and answer questions, we also see current students, alumni, and parents of current and future students engaging and responding.”
Example: One recent post was from a parent asking if her daughter, who will be a freshman in the fall, should bring a car to campus during her first year. That post garnered several responses from current students and parents, many of whom said a car isn’t needed because the campus has a trolley, and there is a shopping center and cinema complex right across the street.
One interesting decision APU makes is not to show its logo on Facebook, especially in its profile picture, to help with the perception that this is not just a corporate page, but a place for community.
Flickr pic of the day
Prospective students are responsive to different kinds of information posted on these sites. On Twitter, one of APU’s most popular posts is the regular “Flickr pic of the day” linking back to photos from the university’s Flickr group. On Facebook, alumni enjoy commenting on APU traditions, like Donut Man.
Donut Man? If that’s a criterion for choosing a college, then maybe my original t-shirt idea wasn’t so crazy after all.