Social media in college admissions
Social media in college admissions

This university has prided itself on being a community of innovators — but when it comes to using social media in the application process, admissions officials say slower and more traditional methods are better.

Over the past several years, the college admissions process has evolved from paper pamphlets and snail mail to virtual tours and, most recently, Twitter and other social media platforms. Unlike many schools taking to 140-character messages and mobile apps, however, this university’s admissions office has resisted the social media trend but is cautiously optimistic about a more digital process.

“I’m always cautious. I believe in change for the sake of progress, not change for the sake of change,” said Undergraduate Admissions Director Shannon Gundy. “We’re in the business of identifying the best students for the University of Maryland, and we want to do it appropriately.”

The university has profiles on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo, but those are accounts for the school as a whole. The admissions office itself doesn’t engage in social media outreach on its own.

A recent Time magazine feature spotlighted the evolving face of college admissions — from Facebook to Pinterest, schools are doing it all. The University of Georgia even has its own mobile app — students can view their admissions decision with a flick of their fingertips.

About a third of college admissions officers said digital admissions processes are more effective than traditional methods, and 86 percent of them are planning to expand their schools’ social media presences, according to Time and a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth study.

But Gundy said she isn’t so sure. She said the decision to keep using traditional platforms to contact students has been mostly guided by what she’s heard from students themselves, many of whom say they are uncomfortable with the idea of interacting with colleges through social media.

“I think a lot of other institutions are anxious to be ahead of the curve, but our strategy has been to talk to the students,” Gundy said. “[Social media] is how they want to talk to their friends; they feel like it’s more appropriate with their social relationships. We’re not their friends — we’re interacting with them on a professional level. They want boundaries.”

Going digital has its advantages, though — the sheer volume of admissions material that clogs up mailboxes and inboxes is enough to drive any college applicant insane. It’s no wonder, then, that schools choose to turn to online platforms.

The digital process is also inexpensive. In fall 2010, colleges spent an average of $585 per student on recruiting applicants, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Some for-profit institutions, such as the University of Phoenix, spend as much as 30 percent of their budgets on advertising, according to The Huffington Post.

But many students say they are in favor of this university’s selective approach to a digital application process.

“All in all, I think the level of Maryland’s presence online is appropriate,” said Meghan Bentz, a sophomore mathematics major. “I feel that Maryland does reach out to its students through the Internet, but not as much through social media. I don’t think that it’s all that necessary. I think email works better, so I’m glad we have that as a focus.”

Others, such as Jack Molleur, a sophomore journalism major, said a move toward social media sends the wrong message to students.

“I think reaching out to prospective students through social media could possibly come off as a little bit unprofessional, just because it’s more casual than an email or a physical letter in the mail. It could also come off as being lazy or impersonal,” Molleur said. “I don’t think it would affect my admission decision.”

Gundy added there’s a sense of nostalgia in being able to tear open an envelope and hold a printed acceptance letter. While Gundy said the admissions office does include a fair amount of information online, such as a copy of the printed admissions decision, she doesn’t see an end to paper mailings any time soon.

“It’s possible that all of this could change very quickly,” Gundy said. “Each class of students we work with is very different, and we’ll change in response to that.”