Reinvigorating the college search and application process

Posted by Brian Ruhlmann on September 8, 2016
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Way back when I when I began my college search (in 2007, which I'm told was only yesterday when I talk to some of my seniors about it), I wasn't too excited about the process. And I certainly wasn't leading the charge... I knew I wanted to go to college, but when my parents would bring up pairing my summer vacation with visiting schools, I became very good at quickly moving the conversation to another topic.

To be fair, I did have some friends who really enjoyed exploring and dreaming of the possibilities at different colleges they visited. But when I think back on my college hunt, I get flashbacks of the enormous "Fiske Guide to Colleges" book, surfing the internet to skim generic descriptions of colleges, and generally feeling overwhelmed by what my parents and others were telling me would be the biggest decision of my life to that point.
During my search, I'd ask some of my older friends how they liked their first year or two at their respective colleges, but I don't remember those conversations having a lasting impression. As a high school athlete I was able to conveniently fill my weekends with sports events rather than campus visits, but during my junior year I did visit a handful of schools.
 
Each tour felt similar. I'd have a lot of positive thoughts on each school, a few negative ones, 3 pounds of informational fliers... and then, in the ensuing months, these initial impressions would blur together into an undifferentiated mass.
 
My college search started in 2007 and I made my decision in 2009, but in terms of technology, that was light years ago. I had just joined Facebook during that time, so when I posted my status as "UMass Amherst Class of 2013," you could easily scroll up and see my big announcement among the relatively few posts on my Facebook "wall."
 
Thinking back on my college search, I was curious if Class of 2020 students had a similar experience. So I decided to ask some Class of 2020 Students who read our student blog: "What are the first three words that come to mind when thinking back on your college search and application process?" Here are some of the responses we saw:
college search and applicationBy and large, their characterizations seemed pretty much in line with my experience, which prompted me to ask: How can we change those negative thoughts about the college search and application process into positive ones?
 
To steal a concept from Ian Altman and Jack Quarles, authors of "Same Side Selling, and put a higher ed spin on it: "How can we get students and institutions to sit on the same side of the table, engage, and guide students through the search, application and enrollment process in an enjoyable way?"
 
Well, it turns out it's already happening, which I learned when doing some research on marketing and recruitment strategies. I want to point out a few institutions and companies that really stand out and help reinvigorate the college search and application process.

MIT

MIT has an awesome admissions blog with lots of great contributors, featuring posts by current students, alumni and faculty on topics that range from how MIT is keeping a student's lifelong dream alive, to how to die your hair like engineer, and on and on.
 
It's no surprise that MIT is especially good at this. MIT alumni Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, the co-founders of HubSpot, coined the term inbound marketing and are huge advocates of the power of blogging. By reading high-quality posts from enrolled MIT students, prospective students are able to paint the picture of who MIT students really are. It's also an extremely valuable, cost-effective way to attract, convert and nurture students through the college search and application process.

Vivoom

Vivoom, our neighbors on the other side of the Charles River in Cambridge, Mass., combine the power of a university's brand and social media. Vivoom is a mobile advertising platform that allows students to shoot and share creative videos. They recently ran a campaign with the prospective 2020 class at TCU, where admitted students shared videos featuring their acceptance letter on social media channels. Vivoom not only helped generate buzz for admitted students to positively impact yield, but also gave TCU valuable social media insights and analytics across different platforms.

Wheaton College

What Wheaton College did last spring didn't originally start on social media, but they certainly got a lot of social and internet buzz. Grant Gosselin, Dean of Admissions at Wheaton College, Stertorous Thunder (Wheaton's Mascot) and others hand-delivered acceptance letters to 75 students scattered across New England. While I'm sure these visits made a lasting impression on those accepted students, it was a very creative way to show how Wheaton takes pride in its personal, intimate campus climate. A number of other colleges have hit the road and hand-delivered acceptance letters, including Rowan University, University of Maryland, and the University of Albany. Kirk Brennan, the Director of Admissions at the University of Southern California, has been delivering acceptance letters by hand since 2012 and says it is USC's most popular social media campaign.

YouVisit

I wish I could have had access to virtual campus tours when I was doing my college search. I'll always remember that bone-chilling February vacation when I visited two schools in northern New England and the temperature was in the single digits. YouVisit.com has hundreds of schools that you can explore virtually with a 360-degree view, have your own tour guide, and even use a virtual reality set. With the huge advancements in virtual reality, a virtual campus tour can feel really real.

AdmitHub

Look, we couldn't leave ourselves out...
 
AdmitHub helps students enjoy the college search and application process in a variety of different ways, but I'll share just two for now.
 
Students who are beginning their college search can message Oli, our virtual college counselor, on Facebook or text him to ask for help. Oli asks the student some questions to get to know them and gather information. Once Oli gets enough context about a student's interests -- e.g., whether they want to stay close to home or travel far away for school, whether they prefer a big or small school, what major they're interested in, etc. -- Oli can suggest a few schools to check out. He's sort of like the sorting hat in Harry Potter, but he won't make you go to Slytherin!
 
Another thing that Oli and prospective students have in common? They all can really appreciate a great gif.
 
Woo! Finally finished those applications:
finish_application.gif         
 
Completed the FAFSA at long last:
            30rock.gif
 
A perfect gif can make you smile, and everyone could use a few more smiles throughout the college search and application process.

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Topics: College Admissions, colleges, recruitment