Colleges Use Facebook to Recruit Students

VIDEO: Former White House press secretary is reportedly in talks with the company.
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Laura Harrison always knew she wanted to go to Brigham Young University. The 17-year-old from El Dorado Hills, Calif., calls the Utah school her "one and only" and only bothered to apply to one back-up college.

With her heart set on the university, Harrison began using Facebook to connect with the staff.

"I pretty much stalked the BYU admissions page," she said. "It got to a point that I was posting on their wall on a weekly basis."

Harrison asked questions about the university and the application process through the BYU admission office's Facebook page, a site designed to recruit and inform prospective students.

While Brigham Young holds a particular appeal to its applicants -- its Latter-day Saints affiliation -- it does fit into a broad trend across college and university campuses of all affiliations, shapes and sizes: Where academic institutions may have once dismissed social media interaction, many are now embracing it.

According to a recent Kaplan survey of college admissions officers, 82 percent of American universities have set up Facebook pages to communicate with prospective students during the admissions process.

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

"College-aged kids use social networking a lot," said Jeff Olson, Kaplan's vice president of research. "A majority use it every day. Now colleges are recognizing what a powerful tool it can be."

Olson said that over the past few years, attitudes toward colleges using social media have changed. Initially, people saw universities engaging with prospective students over sites like Facebook as a negative interaction, he said.

"There was this 'Oh, no!' reaction at first," he said. "But as social networking becomes more popular, people are warming up to the idea."

A lot of the fear stemmed from the belief that colleges would use information found on an applicant's Facebook profiles against them, he said.

"There's this urban legend that every college admissions officer checks every student's Facebook," Olson said. "Honestly, it doesn't happen that often, but that doesn't mean it can't happen."

Do College Admissions Officers Look At Facebook Profiles?

Kaplan's survey of college admissions officers suggests that about 10 percent of officers have checked an applicant's online profile. This figure has not changed since 2008, despite more colleges using social media to recruit students.

Olson remembers how one student posted comments on his Facebook, bragging about how he was "too good" for a certain university that accepted him. An admissions officer saw the comments and rescinded the school's invitation to enroll.

"With every post, you're leaving a digital paper trail," he said.

But Olson admits that cases in which students harm themselves using social media are "isolated."

"In the end, your Facebook is far less important than your transcripts," he said.

Waiving Rights Through 'Friend' Requests?

Portia Goodin, a high school senior from Carbondale, Ill., has had positive experiences communicating with her university of choice over social media. Next year, she'll attend Indiana University, and she's used the school's admissions Facebook page to meet other students and get information about student life.

While she doesn't believe that universities frequently use students' Facebook pages to make admissions decisions, she does think schools should be able to use such information if they want.

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