Taking a digital tour of your future college

Instead of looking at college pamphlets, students are doing research online.

You probably remember what your college admission process was like: Schools would send you packets of information filled with gorgeous color photography and glowing testimonials. You'd stuff all of it into a box, pull it out to decide which schools to visit and then – if you or your parents had the time and money – schedule trips.

While visiting the school, a perky undergrad would give you a very selective tour of the campus, point out everything that was great and neglect to mention all the bad stuff. You might call a few people in Financial Aid and Admissions and ask them some questions. Then, you'd decide whether to apply. The end.

Today's college admission story is very, very different. This is because colleges – like many other organizations – have embraced the digital age. Instead of receiving mail from schools, you get email newsletters and invitations to webinars.

Two-thirds of prospective students now review a school's social media accounts for information about extracurricular activities, news and photos. This includes checking out sites like YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. And we're not just talking about a few hundred people – some schools have millions of "Likes" on Facebook.

To give you some perspective on this, here are the top five social media colleges and some stats about them:

  1. Harvard University – 2.5 million Likes on Facebook
  2. Johns Hopkins University – 19 student blogs, nine Twitter accounts, more than 100 YouTube videos with over 300,000 views
  3. University of Notre Dame – 73,927 Facebook Likes
  4. Columbia University – 17,011 Likes
  5. Stanford University – 517,247 Likes

How does this change the admissions process?
All of this digital information means that rather than relying on that tour guide, you take your own virtual tour of the school anytime, anywhere. It's pretty easy to find out both the good and the bad just through a basic Google search.

While this is great for students, it can become a public relations nightmare for schools – especially if there are former or current students with axes to grind. Like other industries, schools have to become aware of this and try to get ahead of bad press by responding proactively to problems and complaints. Instead of hiding or avoiding problems, they should confront them head on and propose solutions.

Ultimately, this can benefit everyone involved because it leads to more information and a greater level of transparency. Both students and parents can gain a more realistic picture of the school. And colleges can do a better job of showing students how awesome they are by posting news, events, photos and other compelling info online.

Do you think it's good or bad that more students and parents are researching schools online? Please share your opinions below or let us know on Facebook!

Kate Beckham

Kate has been lighting up the blogosphere for over 5 years, with a keen interest in social media and new malware threats. When not sitting at a café behind her Mac, you’ll usually find her scouring the racks for vintage finds or playing guitar.