AJU and the Evolution of College Search - For the Record Winter 11

By: Matt Spooner
Director of Undergraduate Admissions

It's safe to say that 2010 marked the meteoric rise of social media. A shining example of this was Time Magazine's recognition of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and President/CEO of the social networking site Facebook, as their Person of the Year 2010. Just two years ago, this honor was given to Barack Obama. The omnipresence and influence of social media is the latest indicator that we've entered a new era in college search – a development that hasn't been lost on AJU's Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

The "old school" model of college search was driven by the colleges themselves. Admissions offices would purchase the names and addresses of prospective students from institutions such as The College Board, and those students would receive a seemingly endless flow of materials - look books, brochures, postcards, flyers, etc. It was then up to these students to sift through this mountain of information in order to identify and take the next steps with the colleges they were interested in. These steps - such as calling admissions offices, setting up tours of campuses and overnight stays, and arranging to attend college fairs - were all major indicators of prospective student interest in a college.

While elements of this model are still part of the modern admissions process, today's college-bound students are far more proactive...and much harder to track. This paradigm shift can be attributed to the pervasiveness and accessibility of the internet. These days, prospective students can conduct their college searches whenever and wherever they so please.

In fact, this relatively recent development has resulted in a new term being coined amongst the college admissions industry: "stealth applicant." Stealth applicants are students who have bypassed the typical means by which former generations of students expressed an interest in college - calls, tours, fairs - in exchange for doing things their way. This presents several questions for college admissions offices, namely (a) how did these students initially hear about their institutions and (b) how much do these students really know about what their institutions have to offer?

Here at AJU, our interpersonal admissions process gives us a distinct leg up with these "stealth applicants." Understanding this group requires both time and an interest in getting to know every applicant from a holistic perspective. The combination of our rolling admissions process and dedication to frequent and meaningful one-on-one engagement allows the Admissions Team the opportunity to demystify this under-the-radar population.

A few savvy internet companies, such as CollegeView and Cappex, are engaging this new generation of self-empowered students. These companies are amongst a growing population of "College Search Social Media" sites, all of which utilize tools familiar to today's college-bound population in order to help them manage the search process in a meaningful fashion.

While it's wise to be integrated with social media sites such as Facebook, CollegeView, and Cappex, it's crucial for admissions professionals to leverage each site's strength. Our Undergraduate Admissions Facebook profile allows us to keep prospective students updated on campus events, admissions announcements, and student life, while our individual Facebook profiles allow us to connect with prospective students in a space where they're comfortable and active. CollegeView features a "fuzzy match" technology that exposes college-bound students to university profiles that fit their unique requirements; in light of this, we're focused on making sure that our information is consistently up-to-date. Cappex allows admissions offices the opportunity to create campaigns that are automatically sent to targeted student populations, and we're constantly tweaking our campaigns to ensure that they're engaging and relevant.

More and more, prospective college students are taking initiative and focusing on the fit instead of the name of the school. Understanding and participating in this trend is at the forefront of today's admissions activities, and AJU's Office of Undergraduate Admissions is excited and ready for this challenge.