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Tweeting your way into college?

Jenna Johnson

I received a great question via Facebook this week from a community college student in California who is planning to transfer to a four-year university. She is following her top four favorite colleges on Twitter -- but should she be doing more?

Is it okay for me to show interest in different schools publicly, asking questions on twitter to specific schools, corresponding with them via twitter timeline, etc? Would it affect my acceptance to my top choice schools? How can I use twitter effectively to make a good impression to admission officers at each school?

I passed her questions along to college admissions and social media experts. I got lots of great replies (which you can read after the jump). While many universities use Twitter to send out information, very few use it to interact with potential students. I think it's definitely worth a try (in addition to all of the traditional channels) -- but don't be surprised or hurt if you never hear back from anyone!

hopkins.jpgDaniel G. Creasy, Johns Hopkins University
Associate Director of undergraduate admissions
@AdmissionDaniel

The Undergraduate Admissions Office at Johns Hopkins University is actively using Twitter as a way to communicate with prospective students, yet we see the communication as primarily one-way. The Twitter accounts we have set up and the tweets we post are used to pass along newsworthy items or information we feel prospective students should be aware of, as well as a way to promote new content posted to our admissions site such as new student blog entries.

We currently do not use Twitter as a way to interact with prospective students and I do not envision us going that way in the near future. We have a plethora of other ways interested students can interact with Admissions staff and current students (e-mail accounts, blogs, message boards, Facebook), and do not see Twitter replacing any of those methods.

I would add that if a student really wants to interact with a school and "make a good impression," communicating through a social media program is probably not the most effective tool. Even though most Admissions offices are actively using social media these days, I think the preference to learn about potential applicants still lies with traditional means of contact: campus visit, phone call, or e-mail.

stmarys.jpgLauren Madrid, St. Mary's University in San Antonio
Electronic Communications Coordinator
@StMarysU

I work in University Communications (PR) and use our Twitter account for branding. I am not actively recruiting, but do get many questions from prospective students. As far as I know, our admission staff doesn't check out students' Twitter accounts in the process. So from my experience, it wouldn't really matter to me what kind of impression she made. I usually make a point to welcome and interact students who talk about applying or seem interested in St. Mary's. But I don't pass that information along to the admission staff unless there is a question I can't answer.

I think she shouldn't be so worried about how exactly she interacts with schools on Twitter. Obviously, try to use correct grammar and spelling, but asking questions, retweeting and giving positive feedback to schools you are applying to is a great way to show you care.

ariel.jpgAriel Carpenter, University of Southern California
Director of Public Relations
@ariel_carpenter

USC doesn't use Twitter to engage with prospective students on a level that may show bias, but rather provide them resources to address any admissions or transfer questions they may have. We direct students with any admissions questions posed on our Twitter to our online web page for answers where they can also set up one-on -one meetings.

Twitter is a great tool for her to use for "data gathering" on her prospective schools that she can perhaps use as part of her dialogue with the admissions officer once an appointment is booked (such as what's happening on campus, important deadlines to keep in mind, etc). I also think it's fine to follow as many schools as she's interested in without affecting her chances at any of them.

corey.pngCorey Alderdice, Western Kentucky University
Admissions and PR for the Gatton Academy, a residential high school on campus
@innervation

The first key in utilizing social media is to understand how the institutions in which she has an interest are using Twitter. Accounts that are generally related to public affairs or media relations will not be as likely to respond to her questions. It would be the same as calling the English department to discuss a mathematics major. If the institution has an admissions Twitter account, that should mean that the office values social media as part of their outreach and customer service. If the account is actively used and there are signs that they engage in two-way communications with students, then it is certainly an avenue for information and discussion.

She may also direct her attention to any Twitter Lists and the individuals the account is following. Your account (@wpjenna) demonstrates that you are affiliated with the Washington Post. Similar to your own ID, in order to keep business separate from personal tweets, admissions officers may have work accounts. These would certainly be the most effect to target as they are intentionally used for work-related tweets. University or departmental accounts may very well have lists of their admissions officers or only follow those individuals.

The true challenge in this is how much can be accomplished in 140 characters. After an initial public reply, my likely response would be to send a direct message (DM) with my direct telephone number or email so we could continue the conversation further and in more depth. I
would equate a Twitter inquiry to completing a "request for more information" form on a website. It's a start to the conversation, not the end.

Her question also assumes that key decision-makers are on the other end of her tweets. The work of social media may very well be in the hands of an entry-level recruiter. While they can be helpful in providing information, I would not count on that being the person who makes decisions.

She also assumes that the schools to which she is applying will be checking up on her social media profiles for additional information. The only negative effect would be if they do so and find
tweets that cast her in a negative light (TwitPic links of her drinking, etc.) However, this is the same advice I would give any student about representing themselves in a positive, adult-like manner in their use of social media. I guess her concern is the appearance of a series of Tweets to @stateu, @tech, @privateu and @citycollege would demonstrate a lack of particular interest in any given school. Perhaps the best suggest is not to worry about the number of schools she contacts but the manner in which she communicates with those schools.

Most of all, I would encourage her to be genuine in all of her interactions. We've certainly heard stories about how a person lands a job via Twitter or their YouTube video gets them a record deal. Such actions are more schemes than actualities. Social media is a tool like email or the telephone. If it is a way that she is comfortable communicating and if the group on the other end is as well, then I say go for it.

What do you think? Have you tried reaching out to colleges on Twitter?

And do you have an admission question that you want answered? E-mail Jenna at johnsonj@washpost.com.

By Jenna Johnson  |  June 24, 2010; 2:15 PM ET
Categories:  Admissions  | Tags: Admissions, Twitter  
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Comments

I'm the Social Media Manager for Herzing University and I agree with most of the comments above. Twitter is excellent for building a following by sharing useful, relevant information to prospective students but falls short as an effective two way communication tool. Sure, someone may hear of us and check out our website and even enroll, but that's not the goal there. Facebook is a far more effective tool to establish contact with prospective students.

Posted by: Clint75 | June 24, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

As an educational consultant and college planner, I encourage students to show schools when they are interested in them by emailing with questions, visiting a college campus, attending college fairs, etc. I strongly agree that twitter is not the way a student should try to show an interest. It probably is an all right tool for colleges to get out information to students, but that should be the extent of it. Be a Facebook fan of a school if you want to use social media.

Susie Watts
Denver, Colorado

Posted by: collegedirection | June 25, 2010 12:52 AM | Report abuse

At Penn State, we have an RSS news feed, @pennstatelive, which only pushes information.

Our other Twitter feed, @penn_state, attempts to connect with students, prospective students, alumni, faculty, and staff. If we receive questions there or on our Facebook page, we answer them as quickly as possible and try to put them in touch with the correct person.

We want potential students to get in touch with us through the channel that's most comfortable for them.

Posted by: creasy1 | June 25, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

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