It’s almost hard to imagine a time when the Web and other forms of technology weren’t a central part of a student’s hunt for the perfect degree program or college. From the dominance of social media marketing to the ease of browsing through information on the Internet, technology has dramatically changed how students think about and execute their college search from beginning to end. Here are just a few of the many ways that these technologies and others are changing and have already changed how students seek out information about potential colleges and ultimately choose the school that’s right for them.
Students looking for a college today will, of course, head to the school’s website. But another major stop may be the school’s Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest page. In fact, research has shown that two-thirds of students use social media to research colleges and one-third use social media to help decide where to enroll. Why is social media becoming such a powerful tool in the college search? It turns out that students like being able to communicate with current students and administrators, and because so many students are already on social media sites, it’s a natural next step to use them to search for and learn about a school. In fact, social media is so dominant that schools who want to stay competitive and draw in students have to have a social media presence.
For many of today’s students, traditional brochures or informational packets no longer rule the college search process. The Web is the only tool many need to decide whether or not a college is right for them. And who can blame them? Students can now get all the information they need about a school right from their home computers. They can read through course catalogs and learn about campus activities on college websites, participate in online college fairs, and even take virtual campus tours. For many, tech has become the perferred method of interacting with, learning about, and choosing schools and it will likely play an increasingly larger role as time goes on.
These days, students don’t need to hop on a plane or take a long road trip to get a good idea of what a school’s campus is like. Numerous schools offer access to virtual 3D tours or videotaped guides of the campus. Paired with maps and student commentary, students can get a great idea of what the campus and the surrounding community have to offer. This no-hassle kind of academic tourism makes it easier than ever for students to learn more about schools out of state or out of the country, encouraging many to apply to schools they might not have otherwise considered.
Through blogs, social media, and review-focused sites, students can find unfiltered information about what it’s really like at a school on the Web. Rather than the glossy, brochure-ready image that school publications and promotional materials can present, many of today’s college-focused sites offer students a chance to learn more about a school directly from current students or alumni, giving them both the good and the bad aspects up front. For many, this may make a big difference in helping to decide which schools will be a good fit (certain atmospheres and cultures aren’t a great match for everyone) and which should be passed up for other schools. What’s more, students can also use social media sites to learn more about their potential professors, which for some students can be a big part in the decision-making process.
Students who are unsure of where to even begin with trying to find a school can get help online, too. Sites like WiseChoice help students choose a school based on an area of interest and a given geographic location. Others, like My Plan and College Data, offer access to statistics from schools all over the nation which can make it easier to determine just how successful a student might be in a given program. Students can even use sites that focus on what other students have to say, like StudentsReview, to give them a more well-rounded impression of a school. All in all, there isn’t much students can’t find out about a school with a little web research, which is a major change from less than a generation ago.
With the advent of the Universal College Application it’s easier than ever for students to apply to numerous colleges at once. Students only need to fill out the basic information once, then complete the specific requirements each college asks for in its application, usually in the form of essay prompts. The ease of this system has made it possible for students to apply to more colleges in less time, leading many to cast their nets more widely than they would have in the past. As a result, students may not need to be quite as painstaking about their college search, as less time and effort needs to go into to applying to every school.
How students are finding out about a school (or in some cases, being recruited to it) has changed a lot over the past few years. While many colleges still send out hefty packets full of glossy photos and information about degree programs, many more are focusing on tech-based ways of contacting and impressing students instead. Increasingly, students get emails from schools that are interested in them and some may even find themselves with friend requests and follows from college administrators on Facebook or Twitter who want to show off their school on social media. Higher education marketing has become much more relationship-focused, which has changed how students look for and consider colleges they might want to attend, perhaps for the better.
In years past, most students had little contact or interaction with the admissions officers who would be deciding whether or not they got into a school. Now, students can easily get in touch with those in administrative offices at schools, and are able to ask questions about applying, financial aid, and even the status of their own admission or waitlisting. This kind of contact can help make applying to a school a less intimidating process and can build up connections and community before students ever see a school’s campus.
It’s not just on PCs that today’s students can search for their future alma maters. Many colleges are creating mobile features that allow students to learn about them, track their admissions, and keep in touch right from their smartphones. While some colleges have simply created mobile-friendly versions of their main websites, others have created unique apps that cater to prospective and current students. It’s not just colleges getting in on the mobile game, however. Loads of other college-focused websites are also creating mobile apps that allow students to get information about schools on-the-go.
In an age when nearly everything has gone virtual, it makes sense that the college search is now almost entirely reliant on tech. While campus visits, informational materials, and high school counselors still play a role, most students learn about and connect with potential colleges through technology. In fact, colleges can’t hope to stay competitive and bring in top students without having a solid and multifaceted web presence. Technology, in many ways, hasn’t just changed the college search process, but has taken it over, becoming the central tool through which students learn about and explore their options for higher education, at their own paces and through a variety of different avenues. It may be less personal than the college search in the past, but it offers tools to meet the needs and desires of just about every kind of student, and that can hardly be a bad thing.