Be a Social Networking Sleuth
Use social networks to get a good look at the school you're interested in.
By Kristen Lemaster
March 23, 2012
One thing I wish someone had told me is that social networking is even more popular in college than it is in high school. Seeing the college brochures of students playing frisbee, lying on the grass, studying in libraries, and hanging out at coffee shops had given me this mental image of the college student who is so busy living her life that she suddenly doesn’t even have time to update her Facebook status once a week.
That isn’t the case, of course. People definitely spend a lot of their days outside and can keep themselves plenty busy enough, but they also make time to let the world know what they’re doing, feeling, and thinking. What this means for high school students is that you can essentially get an inside look at a college without even visiting. All it takes is a little online investigation.
Consider the possibilities with Tumblr, a blogging platform where users can tag their posts and other users can track all posts that have a certain tag. If you want to know what happens on a typical day at a school on your potential to-apply-to list, all you need to do is search a tag that would identify the school, like “Auburn” or “UMass.”
You may get a few rants, or posts that give you more information about the individual than you cared to know, but it’s likely you’ll stumble upon even more genuine accounts and perspectives of what it’s really like to attend school there. (A quick search for “UGA” turned up a bunch of photos from the gorgeous, warm, sunny Thursday we recently had, as well as posts about the super fun Dance Marathon for UGA Miracle.)
The same concept of “tagging” applies to a number of other social networking sites, including Twitter, Wordpress, and Blogspot. Often you can even contact the original source or author of the post and ask questions – without disclosing too much information about yourself or risking your own privacy.
Facebook is a little more complicated but can also be a good source if you “like” a page about the university, join a group associated with one of its campus organizations, or add friends who are a year or two ahead of you and attending that school. Some colleges have their own accounts on social networking sites, from admissions blogs to Twitter feeds, which can be found with a quick and easy Google search.
While nothing can compare to actually setting foot on the college campus and feeling its unique atmosphere, tracing a college’s online presence is one way to explore it without having to travel halfway across the country or sit through a cliché information session.
It is also easier to ask and have your questions answered through emails and online messages, where your contact can include helpful links and step-by-step instructions; unlike with talking to a few people on a single campus visit, stumbling across student blogs online allows you to maintain lasting communication and gives you a more complete look at the university experience.
Most importantly, typical college students are funnier and more outspoken than the admissions officers or academic advisors you may be urged to email with questions. That’s just the nature of their role at the university. Students can tell you which professors are challenging while still being cooperative, or which residence halls are the best to live in as a first-year, or which dining halls have fewer choices than the others. There is always, always advice to be given; even in my second semester I find myself asking my mentors how to get certain things done and who to ask for in-depth help.
As a prime example, UGA’s summer program for incoming freshman, known as Dawg Camp, has its own Tumblr blog which features testimonies from both campers and counselors who aren’t afraid to admit that at first the idea of camp sounded lame but it truly proved to be a life-changing experience. The UGA Admissions Blog is also regularly updated with answers to tricky frequently asked questions about the application process and reminders about important deadlines for high school seniors.
Some colleges and employers use social networking sites to get a better idea of who their applicants really are. Why not do the same for them?