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Social Media in Admissions: No Longer a Choice

College-admissions offices overwhelmingly consider social media important for recruiting students, and more institutions are creating blogs and online profiles, new studies show.

Thirty-three percent of admissions offices kept blogs in 2007, and 29 percent maintained social-networking profiles, according to a report released today by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, known as NACAC. The report, “Reaching the Wired Generation: How Social Media Is Changing College Admission” (available to NACAC members), is based on survey responses from 453 colleges in the spring of 2007.

But social media evolve quickly, show more-recent data published by the author of the NACAC report, Nora Ganim Barnes, director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. A survey of 536 colleges in the fall of 2008 found that 41 percent of admissions offices kept blogs and 61 percent maintained social-networking profiles.

Private colleges were more likely than public institutions to keep blogs, according to Ms. Barnes’s report. Over all, it says, information-technology units typically set up blogs, and admissions, marketing, or public-relations offices maintained them. Forty-eight percent of colleges said they kept video blogs, and 16 percent reported using podcasts.

The NACAC report raises some concerns about colleges’ use of social media, primarily that they don’t sufficiently promote, evaluate, or keep dynamic various online ventures. The report offers bullet-point advice, telling colleges to focus their blogs but to line up several contributors, including students, with only minor supervision. It also recommends starting blogs in languages other than English to recruit international students.

For some colleges, social media are not only for sharing information but for seeking it, the studies show. In 2007, 26 percent of colleges examined some applicants with Web searches, and 21 percent checked them out on social networks. Nowhere did the practice involve every applicant; instead, colleges looked up candidates when considering them for scholarships or other special programs, the NACAC report says. “In all these cases,” it says, “the intent was to protect the school from potential embarrassment.”

By last fall, however, those searches had decreased, says Ms. Barnes’s report. Twenty-three percent of colleges reported using Web searches and 17 percent said they had used social networks to look at applicants. —Sara Lipka

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