Social media named valedictorian in determining college social scene

College applicants may delve into university websites for general information, but social media makes the grade for determining college social scenes. Not surprisingly, 65% of students surveyed list college Facebook sites as the top source for social information, according to a Fastweb and Maguire Associates’ survey.

“Facebook can start to be useful in the sense that it provides you with this authentic view of what college is like,” says Kim Reid, Maguire Associates’ VP of research operations. “’Where do I really fit in?’ Making those connections between [high school] students and current students—allowing students to see the campus for what it is, get a feel for the culture of the campus—is extremely important. If you can’t visit a campus, a place like Facebook is a great place to do that.”

The survey results show that 75% of respondents would prefer to use a college Facebook page to connect with enrolled students rather than fellow applicants, 57% would prefer to post questions rather than search for questions on a FAQ page, and 68% would prefer to look at photographs or videos rather than read about college events.

Despite the list of preferences, the survey reveals that only 17% of survey respondents had actually ever used a college’s Facebook page for those activities, and 51% admitted that they have no interest in doing so. In fact, 53% claimed that “a college’s social media efforts have no effect on my decision to apply,” according to the survey.

Nevertheless, Reid says that having a social media presence is “very important” for universities–especially considering students’ perception of Facebook as the top source for colleges’ social information. Additionally, although social media subjects universities to public ridicule and demands a lot of time to maintain, Reid asserts that colleges need a social presence in order to compete with fellow institutions. “It’s one of those ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situations,” Reid says. “If you don’t have a presence in those places, you’re going to be falling behind your competition. So getting into a [social] space in a highly strategic way is important to colleges.”

When it comes to facts and numbers, students give social media the cold shoulder and turn to institutions’ websites. Students rated a college’s website as the best source of information regarding academic offerings (71%), cost of attendance (73%), admission deadlines (73%), and college news or events (65%), according to the survey.

“I can’t say that I’m surprised given the fact that college websites can be a full reference about a college,” Reid says. “There’s so much more information that you can have in this one digital location that’s kind of hard to echo in a place like Facebook.”

Yet, Reid says that college review websites, such as College Confidential, serve as a happy medium between social media and college websites.

“Students are incredibly savvy about communications. Whether it’s a school’s website, or Facebook page, or things they read in printed materials, they know that those items sponsored by a college or university are an official voice,” Reid says. “Students want to see for themselves. They want the authentic experience, and they know that they’re going to balance out this information that they’re getting through official channels with information that they get from other channels.”

Maguire Associates, a higher education market research and consulting organization, and Fastweb, a student financial aid and scholarship information provider, distributed the survey to approximately 230,000 high school senior Fastweb registered members. Approximately 4,400 students responded.

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