Just as college admissions offices may stalk your social media presence to learn more about you, students should stalk and engage with colleges on social media platforms. I’m not talking about “following” the PR/Marketing/Admissions accounts for your chosen colleges either. These accounts are run by people who are trained to be politically-correct and regurgitate the college’s marketing pitch. I’m talking about getting beyond what the college wants to present to you as you explore your options and conduct research. Explore the college as if you were a current student!
Because everybody loves lists, I’ve made a top 5 list for researching colleges via social media:
1) Follow student government accounts – Most associated student body / student councils will have a Twitter and Facebook account (and many have Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.). Follow them! See what the hot topics are on campus and pay attention to the comments from other current students. This is a great way of learning about current events on campus and getting to know more about the dynamic between students and the administration.
2) Instagram – Even if you aren’t active on Instagram, I recommend using it to check out photos of your prospective college throughout the year. I think this one is especially important if you are not able to visit the college and if you are not familiar with the campus/location. The glossy brochure and fancy website have professional photos of the campus taken on the sunniest and most beautiful days of the year. They focus on new buildings and all-star facilities. While you’ll have to be okay with abuse of Instagram’s filters (side note: why do people think washed-out pictures are cool?), this is a great way of seeing other perspectives of the campus and the surrounding area.
3) Do some hashtag stalking – When browsing around on social media, search some related hashtags and stalk away. Again, don’t just identify the main university account and student life account and settle. Spend some time identifying some common hashtags for that campus, whether it is related to a recent on-campus event, award, controversy, etc.
4) Clubs and organizations of interest – If you already have a sense of what kinds of clubs and activities you want to pursue in college, why not start exploring those options before applying? Try searching for that club on social media to see what they are up to and who participates. For example, if you are an aspiring a cappella singer, check out YouTube videos and recordings of the group(s). For aspiring environmentalists, learn about upcoming events, speakers, and the club’s connection to the community by following them over the course of a few months.
5) Yik Yak – This social media app is a bit controversial and can be more amusing than helpful. Yik Yak shows anonymous postings from people within a ten mile radius only. It is primarily used by college students to gripe about professors, a Saturday night gone wrong or poke fun at a common occurrence on that campus. But often students will comment on the culture and social scene of the school. People tend to post either really positive or really negative experiences or comments, so take everything you read with a grain of salt. I certainly wouldn’t add or eliminate a college from your list based on what students are saying on Yik Yak, but it can provide some interesting insights into life on that campus.
These are just some starting points for students (and parents) as you conduct your college research on social media. Feel free to add in any other thoughts in the comments. Good luck!