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For the millennial generation, social media is virtually a birthright; more than two-thirds use social media to gain a sense of which colleges to apply to, and around a third, once accepted, use social media to narrow down their list to a solid match.

Many use social media to demonstrate interest, one of the top seven factors affecting admissions, according to NACAC’s Admission Decision Survey. Using social media, they might "like" a campus on Facebook, or "follow" it on Twitter. As time passes and more information is garnered about favorite campuses, students can build an ever more detailed and complete profile of the features and benefits favored institutions provide.

Facebook is one of the dominant sites where students begin their college searches to discover a college’s history, background, and to even sample its atmosphere. Cara Rousseau, the social media manager at Duke, notes Facebook is where many conversations about a college take place, where the most recent photos and videos get posted, and where many followers gain an intimate look into campus life.

One tool that will eventually integrate into Facebook — and which gives a full sense of a campus’s atmosphere — is the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset funded on Kickstarter in 2012 and purchased by Facebook for $2 billion in 2014. You Visit, a leader in virtual campus visits, calls the Rift, “reverse teleportation — bringing the location to the person.” It provides a true campus ambience, something that can’t be captured by photo montages in Facebook, Tumblr, or Instagram.

You Visit currently offers a growing library of more than 1,000 Rift virtual campuses from around the world, including Vanderbilt, West Point, and North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

Other social media sites besides Facebook have begun to stake out their portions of the college search turf. 

• Pinterest has virtual boards where many schools post links to their information on campus resources, school information, or admissions tips. Babson (MA), for example, uses its board to connect prospects, current students and alumni: an invaluable means of recruiting and creating a robust institutional community.

• Tumblr serves as a blogging site for many admissions offices, including University of Chicago, Purdue, and Yale. Discussions and answers can often be found at Tumblr about applications, admissions decision, and deadlines. It’s a good social media site to gain an inside look at the workings of admissions.

• Instagram is used by admissions officers to share photos of daily life on campus or premiere admission information letters.

• Twitter, the 140-character micro-blogger site, is used by many prospects to interact with colleges, or even departments within colleges, many of which have their own Twitter accounts. Consequently, rather than read about a department on a college website, a prospect "tweets" the department to dialogue about special majors or internships. Additionally, those interested can follow certain hashtags to monitor new announcements or departmental needs. Twitter is a social media tour de force tool for making final admission decisions.

Last spring, Klaudia Jazwinska, a high school senior accepted at Lafayette (PA) and Lehigh (PA) Universities, reached out to both schools via social media to ask their opinions as to which might be best for her to attend. The marching band at Lehigh responded to her inquiries by inviting her to candidate’s day. Lehigh’s admissions office mentioned undergraduate research opportunities, faculty mentors, a gorgeous campus, and interdisciplinary majors. Jack Lule, the chair of Lehigh’s journalism department, discussed with her the finer points of studying journalism at Lehigh.

Lehigh sold Klaudia by answering many of her questions about how she will fit into campus life. The power of social media removed a lot of guesswork from her final college selection.

Ralph Becker, founder of Ivy College Prep, LLC and a resident of Long Beach, has been counseling students for the last 9 years. A former Yale Alumni interviewer, he holds a certificate in college counseling from UCLA Extension, and has published SAT* Vocab 800.

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