AUSTIN, Texas, Dec. 4, 2008 -- Instead of mailing out thousands of expensive glossy brochures that advertise the diverse student population and buffet of courses, colleges have turned to social media sites, e-mail and even text messages to get prospective students' attention in one cohesive campaign.
The University of Texas at Austin has come up with several ways to provide students with everything they need to know about the school. Its Be a Longhorn Web site, at www. http://bealonghorn.utexas.edu, is the first place the admissions office will direct anyone who wants to find information about UT.
"It's one-stop shopping," UT admissions counselor Patty Prado said. "Everything you need to know about UT is on the Web. Go to the Web, go to the Web."
Be a Longhorn tells prospective students how to apply to UT, what the university has to offer, what current students think about the school and how to join a mailing list, among other things.
Finding Their Own Information
"One of the best things that it [the Web] does, is it allows students to find the information on their own and print out whatever they need," Prado said. "But printing things out and mailing is very costly. That form of communication [sending information through the mail] is just not now -- it's 10 years ago, 20 years ago. Students today just respond better to text messages and e-mail, so we are changing."
Prado said that UT admissions counselors have also started to text message students so they can receive information about university information sessions in their area.
"The fact of the matter is you know people are at work or soccer practice and aren't home until 9 p.m.," Prado said. "And we're calling and their parents answer the home phone. Students don't usually answer the home phone, which is why we decided to ask them to include a cell number when they fill out all of their information."
With the school contacting students through cell phones, parents are more out of the loop than they once were in the college process, she said. But "going to college is about gaining a newfound independence anyway, so I guess we are giving [the students] a head start," she said.
Some colleges are also getting on Facebook. Admissions offices are creating Facebook groups where they can post information that students could have previously found in one of their pamphlets.
Prado said that UT does not have a Facebook page controlled by the admissions office because there are too many applicants and too much information, so it would be difficult to update and control. She said that usually smaller, private universities, like St. Edwards University, have pages because it is more manageable.
Students Create Groups
However, that does not mean that UT is not represented on the site. Students sometimes create Facebook groups for those who have been admitted to UT in their area so that they can meet and chat through Facebook. For example, there are groups dubbed, "El Paso Area Admitted Students!" or "University of Texas 2012 – Dallas!"
In these groups, incoming students post questions and answers to anything regarding school, football tickets and restaurant recommendations. For example, at the "Shoutout to All McCombs Students!" subgroup in the University of Texas – Class of 2012 Facebook group there's a discussion page where students have asked each other about registration, teacher reviews and projects.
"We aren't controlling that or building that," Prado said. "They are."
Large public universities, like UT, deal with so many students that it is hard to invite people on Facebook to become a fan of their group. When students create groups, it is free advertising for that school.
"I think that when a student is forced to see the name over and over again on Facebook, it can become more appealing," Episcopal School of Dallas senior Allison Kramer said.
Other prospective students who may or may not have given that specific university much thought can click on the group and see what the admitted students are saying.
"So many people I know have joined Facebook groups for the colleges that they have been accepted to," Kramer said. "Every time they join one of those groups, a notice pops up on to my Facebook home page, which then makes me think about that college. I mean, it's not like I will definitely apply to that school just because my friend joined the group, but it does make me more inclined to visit that college's Web site."
Chat is another new program UT is launching for prospective students. Students can log in to the Be a Longhorn Web site and click on the chat link and ask current students and admissions staff questions.
Chatting With Prospects
Prado said that she hopes chat will begin sometime this fall and that the program is something she thinks will be very popular because other schools that use it have had a lot of positive feedback.
St. Edwards University in Austin uses the online chat program. Admissions counselor Robyn Ross said that it is very useful to prospective students because they can ask admissions and current students any type of questions they have regarding college.
Prospective students "ask a lot about admissions," Ross said. "Sometimes they ask questions that have exact answers like, 'Do you have a volleyball team?' and sometimes they ask very imprecise questions like, 'Is that a fun place to go to school?'"
Ross said the admissions office will send out an e-mail to all students who have inquired about the school and invite them to chat at certain times. Then all the student has to do is log on and ask whatever questions they want.
"We have one or two staff members on the chat moderating," she said. "Then we will have several student volunteers who will try to answer the questions, especially the student life-related questions."
Participants ask a lot of questions, Ross said.
"We're always working on getting more participation," she said. "But for the students who are doing it, they ask a lot of questions."
Students can move into a one-on-one discussion with a counselor or student if they have specific questions.
UT sophomore Natalie Raff said that she wishes chat had been implemented while she was applying to college. "It would have been nice to ask a real person my specific admissions questions instead of just gathering all my information from pamphlets," Raff said.
Chat reaches out to all prospective students, but Prado said that the UT admissions office can focus its discussions by restricting sessions to specific types of students, such as those in state or out of state.
"Students are already online chatting with their friends," Prado said. "So they might as well chat with us and learn about UT."