Social Media and College Admissions: What Teens Want Is Not What Colleges Think

Tech
Posted By Eliana Osborn on January 4, 2016 at 11:50 am
Social Media and College Admissions: What Teens Want Is Not What Colleges Think

Every generation thinks their way is the best and, therefore, struggles to understand those who come afterward.  Even colleges, tasked with keeping up to date on the latest youth trends, can sometimes get it wrong.  A recent study examining the divide between what college admissions offices believe teens want and what the students themselves say shows how out of touch these first lines may be.

A new paper, Mythbusting Admissions, from Chegg Enrollment Services, contrasts what students want with what admissions offices think they want. Authors Gil Rogers and Michael Stoner surveyed 156 admissions officers and 1600 teens to get a clearer understanding of how technologies in daily use by high school seniors impact college admissions.  These technologies – many of which didn’t even exist when many administrators went to school – provide exponentially more information for college searches than was available in the past, leaving students overwhelmed by marketing offers and struggling to make decisions more than ever before.

One question asked: how do teens prefer to be contacted on their smartphones?  Teens overwhelmingly said email, at 65%, with phone calls coming in second at 20%.  In contrast, 39% of admissions officers believe teens want to receive texts from them, and only 2% thought phone calls would be of interest. From an admissions standpoint, misreading what potential students want out of a communication relationship is problematic.  For example, colleges that contact students in ways that seem overly casual—like texts or social media—can be off-putting or even confusing.

From an admissions standpoint, misreading what potential students want out of a communication relationship is problematic. For example, colleges that contact students in ways that seem overly casual—like texts or social media—can be off-putting or even confusing. In fact, thinking teens like to be contacted first through social media is one of the eight myths debunked in the whitepaper.

“It’s a simple fact that teens value the university website more than they do official university social media accounts. In fact, 87 percent of teens find college and university websites “extremely” or “very” useful in their college research,” says the paper. Nevertheless, the findings do show that social media, and particularly Facebook, does play a role in influencing teens – though less so and perhaps in different ways than admissions officers believe.  The study also found that:

  1. Potential students do not hang on to admission officer’s every word.
  2. Institution rankings are not very important for teens when they are researching and deciding where to apply.
  3. Teens use their phones to check email – 65% would read emails from colleges on their smartphones, as opposed to receiving texts or social media messages from college admissions offices.
  4. Searches influence teens’ decisions to apply more than unsolicited marketing materials.
  5. Print is an important way to get teens’ attention, but not necessarily effective for communicating information – since more than half of teens toss print communications immediately.
  6. Facebook is not dead to teens. 67% say it’s a valuable tool for researching colleges.
  7. Admissions officers should follow the prospect’s lead. Engage teens using the same channels they use to communicate with colleges.

In closing, Mythbusting Admissions offers colleges two key takeaways for communicating with teens:

  • Teens have a lot of experience – and discretion – when it comes to marketing messages, so getting their attention is not an easy task.
  • Despite using smartphones and social media regularly, teens don’t want to be contacted by people they don’t know through social media – unless they reach out to you first on a social media channel.

For teens preparing to choose a college, the study highlights the importance of sharing your preferences for how you want colleges to talk to you.  Recruitment may seem like a one-way street, but the more you communicate, the better your experience will be.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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