Follow me: Parry College Counseling social media

Follow me!

As more and more people start to visit my blog to learn about college campuses and read my take on current admissions trends, I thought I’d let you know about a few other places where you can “follow” or “like” me. The number of followers and likes I get is very strongly correlated to my sense of self-worth, so please follow, like and share!

(Mostly sarcasm, something difficult to convey in a blog or, for that matter, in a college essay. But I digress…)

Facebook: Parry College Counseling

Being a typical Millennial, I am not a huge fan of Facebook for personal use. However, I do love the ability to post longer reactions to articles or slideshows of photos from campus visits. Check it out!

Twitter: @CollegeAppsHelp

The college admissions and counseling community is really strong on Twitter. I regularly participate in college planning chats or share my 140-character take on current events. Twitter-friendly parents will find a wealth of great resources using these hashtags: #collegechat, #campuschat, #collegebound, #EMchat, and #insightchat, among others.

LinkedIn:  Heather Parry

If you’re dying to know exactly how many high schools I visited during recruitment season at UW or which events I helped plan at Claremont McKenna College, let’s connect on LinkedIn. I do also post more academic or research-oriented articles here intended for the college counseling and enrollment management community.

And don’t be afraid to reach out through a good old-fashioned email either – Thanks for reading!

Do admissions counselors REALLY search for applicants on social media?

Back in May I attended the SuperACAC conference in Reno, Nevada with thousands of other independent college counselors, admissions officers, high school guidance counselors and educators. A few blog posts ago I summarized a few of the key takeaways from that conference, but I wanted to elaborate on one session in more depth below. Students increasingly ask me whether admissions representatives and application readers will search for them on Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media accounts. Though it is something I never did while reviewing applications for the University of Washington (nor did my colleagues), it IS becoming increasingly common.

The conference session backed up this assumption with facts. Cornerstone Reputation recently published one of the most comprehensive surveys of how a student’s online presence plays in to the admissions process. This educational research firm reached out to the nation’s top 100 liberal arts colleges and top 100 national universities seeking more information on how admission officers are using social media searches in the application process. 66% of liberal arts colleges responded to the survey while 44% of national universities responded.

Here is the executive summary of their findings:

“● In the 2012-2013 admissions season, 27% of admissions officers searched applicants online.
● The following year 40% of admissions officers searched applicants online, an increase by 13 percentage points, which is a 48% increase of admissions officers conducting searches in one year.
● 59% report that other admissions officers at their schools utilize online searches.
● More than half of all admissions officers surveyed have performed Google and social media searches to find information about applicants.
● 44% found content that left a negative impression on them about the applicant.
● 46% found content that positively impacted their impression of an applicant.
● 76% of schools surveyed have no formal policy on searching applicants.
● 24% of admissions officers believe that an applicant could gain an advantage in the admissions process by building a positive online presence.”

This isn’t to say that students should go out and delete their social media accounts for the duration of application season. The reality is that admissions counselors are reviewing hundreds, and often thousands of college applications. At large universities with less selective admission criteria, it is fairly unlikely that an admission counselor or application reader will Google an applicant. Sure, there are times when an extraordinary achievement or a unique extracurricular activity may merit an applicant search; however, this is the exception at less selective schools who admit the vast majority of applicants (75%+ admission rate).

However, as the Cornerstone survey reveals, this is becoming more and more common at the nation’s most competitive colleges and particularly at smaller, liberal arts colleges. This isn’t surprising as admission rates continue to plummet and the review process becomes even more tedious. For smaller liberal arts colleges, this is a great way of determining cultural fit with the institution which is generally one of the most important aspects of the review process at these schools. Admission counselors want to admit students who understand the social and academic environment at that small school and will thrive there. They want students who will make good roommates, teammates and contributors to the small community. Social media and online searches can really help admissions counselors to admit the right students for their communities.

Though it is a little late for seniors to build a strong social media presence geared towards college admissions, it is not too late to do the basics. Students should ensure that their social media presence accurately reflects who they are and what they are comfortable with a college knowing about them. Instead of deleting all records of online existence, students should simply clean up their accounts, particularly if they are applying to selective colleges.

Trends in Admissions: Lessons from western U.S. conference (SuperACAC)

In mid-May, I attended the western region’s biggest professional development conference for college admissions folks, high school counselors and independent college counselors: SuperACAC. As a part of my commitment to continuing education, I attend at least one conference every year to stay current on admissions trends and college updates. Here are my top takeaways from this year’s conference.

  • University of California- Berkeley will soon be the first UC school to accept letters of recommendation from teachers or counselors. In this same session, admissions directors from several of the UC campuses walked our group through their comprehensive review process. The review is nearly identical to the review I conducted on thousands of applications to the University of Washington, so I leave feeling much more confident about advising students on admissions to the UC system.
  • The Common Application is adding more than 60 new member colleges this application cycle, which is good news for students. However, much to my dismay is the fact that colleges can now decide whether or not they want to require essays and recommendations. These two application components are absolutely vital to helping a student showcase their unique qualities and story to a school. And the recommendation is a great way of providing context for a student’s GPA, test scores, curriculum, etc. I’ll be curious to see the impact on application numbers for colleges that move to optional essays and recommendations, and will be curious to see what attrition rates look like a few years down the road. I suspect that colleges with fewer requirements will see an increase in applications but they may not be admitting and enrolling students who are a great fit – there is only so much that numbers can reveal about a student’s interests and personality! More information on these changes and others can be found here.
  • A lot of the discussion centered on financial aid and college affordability, an area that is constantly evolving. I learned about some excellent resources for families seeking more thorough support with managing their assets and savings in preparation for sending a student to college. Financial planners with this focus can become a part of professional associations such as the National College Advocacy Group or Higher Education Consultants Association (of which I am a member). I’d encourage families to seek out financial advice from folks who are actively involved with these groups and have a strong commitment to this aspect of financial planning.
  • In a survey of the nation’s top universities (top 100 national universities + top 100 liberal arts colleges), 54% of admissions representatives responded that they have viewed a student’s social media accounts and/or conducted online research of applicants. Cornerstone Research administered this survey and their findings are quite interesting. As admission becomes even more competitive, colleges really are turning to social media and other avenues to learn about prospective students.

Using social media in your college search

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!

-Heather Parry

Top 5 Tips for Getting the Most out of your College Visits

It’s spring break for students across the country – yippee! While this means fun in the sun for some, many high school juniors and their parents are departing for a less relaxing type of trip: the college tour.  I’m getting a lot of questions as students embark on their visits (or return from a whirlwind tour). Are we visiting the right schools? How do we register for events? What should we do to really learn about the campus?

After working in college admissions for nearly ten years, spending much of my time developing campus visit experiences, I know a thing or two about the campus visit. I know first-hand that schools seek to emphasize their strengths and gloss over (or completely ignore) their weaknesses. Fancy brochures contain the same statistics and boring pieces of information, and it seems like every campus tour guide in America is going through the same training program. It becomes really difficult to come away from a visit with a “true” sense of the school’s culture and personality.

Here are my top 5 tips for going beyond the formal events and marketing pieces to make the most out of your college visit:

1) Read posters and signs. Pay attention to the signs (literally) around campus, from the little posters in the dorm entry to the large graffitied walls in the quad. Are there lots of posters promoting community service opportunities? Signs for upcoming open mic nights? Advertisements for employers recruiting on campus?  (On the flip side, if there aren’t many posters around, that might be a sign of a dull campus or commuter culture).

2) People-watching. This is something I enjoy doing in my free time anyways, but it happens to be a great way to evaluate a college. Spend at least 30 minutes in a coffee shop, bookstore, dining hall, or other public place on campus. Take note of the diversity of students you see. Watch how students interact with one another and with administrators or professors. Do you see yourself anywhere in the mix?

3) Take home at least one student publication. Even if you aren’t planning on joining the school newspaper or literary magazine, student publications can give you an insider’s perspective of the campus. Pay attention to the topics and themes as this is a snapshot of what is important to students at that school. Also, pay attention to the quality of the writing. These students will be your peers some day. Will they challenge you or does this read like your standard high school paper?

4) Talk to a few non-tour guides. At many schools, the campus tour guide is a highly coveted and highly competitive position. These students are interviewed and trained to give you the best experience possible. Though they are often more knowledgeable than the average student about the facts and figures, they are only sharing their own experience. Walk up to at least 2-3 other students on campus and ask them 1-2 questions about their experience. Some potential questions include: What do you like most or least about this college? What has been your favorite class so far and why? How is the social scene on the weekends?

5) Stop by the Career Center. This may be more for mom and dad, but can be valuable for students as well. Often the admissions brochures will talk about getting in to the school but won’t address what happens after graduation. Ask for more information on outcomes, such as graduate school placement rates or the top 5 employers of recent graduates. Ask for statistics on where students live after graduating. Most schools will have some handouts with these numbers ready to go, but they may also be willing to sit down with you for a brief chat. If some of the common post-graduation career paths seem exciting to you, that is definitely a good sign.