What’s social media’s role in college searches?

Gen Zers are more likely to use social media, particularly Instagram, in college searches
By: | October 1, 2019
A new study finds that first-generation students are about 60% more likely to discover a college on social media.A new study finds that first-generation students are about 60% more likely to discover a college on social media.

High school students are increasingly shifting their college searches to social media, says a new report, “Recruiting the Digital Native,” by education research and technology company EAB. Social media has also emerged as an effective way to connect with underrepresented students, EAB says.

The study found that about 30% of the nearly 9,500 students surveyed have reached a college or university’s website through its social media channels and that “Instagram is king.” Some 82.5% of students surveyed reported using Instagram, while their use of Facebook is declining.

“Growth in Gen Z’s use of Instagram and their willingness to interact with schools on Instagram makes the platform a clear focus area for colleges looking to engage prospective students,” Pamela Kiecker Royall, head of research for enrollment services at EAB, said in a statement. “However, Facebook continues to serve as an important channel for reaching parents and the 50% of Gen Z students who still use it.”


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The study also found that students from lower-income households and students of color spend more time online than do other students. Also, first-generation students were about 60% more likely to discover a college on social media, as compared with non-first-generation young people.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, students tend to use social media to get a feel for a campus’ atmosphere once they’ve narrowed their search down to a handful of institutions.

However, colleges must focus digital marketing strategies because some students are skeptical of information on social media, according to the “2018 Social Admissions Report” by TargetX and the National Research Center for College & University Admissions.

To reach more a diverse group of students, higher ed institutions now post on social media in languages other than English, University Business reported in 2017.

The International Programs office at The University of Iowa, for example, had hired an alumna who is a native Mandarin speaker to manage the university’s account on a Chinese social media platform, WeChat. She would explore departmental websites for important news about the university and for stories highlighting international student success.


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In its July/August issue, UB also offered advice for college presidents who want to get their messages out on social media. Scott Miller, president of Virginia Wesleyan University, wrote in a column that he uses Flickr, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a daily blog to stayed connected to his campus community.

“Using social media platforms is a cost-effective way to reach your target audiences while promoting your institution’s brand,” Miller and co-author Marylouise Fennell, a former president of Carlow University in Pennsylvania, wrote. “Those who don’t employ social media are missing out on ways of communicating efficiently and quickly to stakeholders.”


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