A few weeks after learning that she had been admitted to Penn, College freshman Janaye McGrew decided to join the University’s official Class of 2014 Facebook group.
McGrew wasn’t yet sure if Penn was the right fit, but she figured that Facebook could help her answer that question.
McGrew’s case highlights what Dean of Admissions Eric Furda called “a growing and fluid role for social media in the admissions process.”
In an effort to reach more prospective students, Furda said that the University values social media outlets as “a good way to forge connections from early on” in the process.
Furda began contributing last year to The New York Times’ “The Choice” blog, which focuses on college admissions and financial aid. He has also participated in an online panel on the admissions process for The Wall Street Journal.
However, Furda stressed that most of Penn’s social media outreach has come on the part of undergraduates, not the University.
“From an institutional perspective, I think Penn takes a fairly conservative approach with social media compared to some other schools,” he said. “Overall, there’s been quite a lot of grassroots work.”
Through programs like the Kite and Key Society’s Student Ambassadors, Penn students are connecting with high-school students on Facebook in more personal, one-on-one settings, he said.
Still, it doesn’t appear as if the Admissions Office is prepared to give way to social media as its primary tool to recruit prospective students — at least for the time being.
“I think when we consider what the in-person visit means, Penn Preview Days are still at the very top,” Furda said. “We have great opportunity with social media, but [we’re] moving cautiously in that department.”
According to Michele Hernandez, a college admissions consultant, many of the nation’s top colleges — including some of Penn’s peer institutions — are coming to regard social media as an important tool in their overall admissions and marketing strategies.
“Colleges have to keep up with the times,” Hernandez said. “They have to be mindful that, when students’ online habits change, they have to change with them.”
In McGrew’s case, the College freshman said the information she came across on the Class of 2014 Facebook page was “very helpful in showing that Penn was a diverse school, which is what I was looking for.”
However, websites like Facebook may sometimes complicate the admissions process.
A 2008 Kaplan survey of 320 admissions officers from various high-ranking schools found that one in ten had visited applicants’ Facebook profiles in the decision-making process. Of those who had viewed students’ profiles, 38 percent reported that their opinions of the applicant were influenced negatively.
Furda stressed that, while Penn does not actively seek out personal information that is not already included on an application, the Admissions Office “remains aware in what is an intense and highly public process.”
“We don’t use social media systematically in our evaluation process, but if there’s something on a site like Facebook that a student invites us into, that’s one avenue that we might take a look at,” he said. “On the applicant’s part, a lot of it is about common sense.”
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