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Should a College Call, Text or Tweet?

MEMBERS OF THE MILLENNIAL GENERATION MAY BE STEROTYPED AS RABID TEXT MESSAGERS, BUT a group of nearly 10 high school seniors and college freshmen agreed on Saturday that they would most like to hear from a college they are interested in by phone.

The group of students, all from the New Orleans area, spoke during a session called “Technology in the College Process: The Student Perspective,” held as the curtain came down on the annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Mystified counselors sought clarification.

“You don’t want us to text you?” one asked in disbelief.

A 12th grader replied, “If you’re going to use the phone, taking the time to call is a lot better, a lot more personal.”

Another university representative asked when might be the best time to call.

“Outside of school hours, because there’s not very good service at my school,” the student replied. “Also because I want to be sure I’ll be able to answer.”

Another revelation for counselors came when the students expressed little interest in connecting with colleges on Facebook, suggesting that a university’s presence on their news feeds was invasive.

“Colleges say, ‘Like us on Facebook’ — but that’s my personal time, I’d rather not,” one high school senior said. “I’d like to find a time in my day where I don’t think about the college process,” she said to soft applause from a few sympathetic audience members.

The peer sitting next to her nodded. “Seeing a college on Facebook, it’s like, you’re in my face, and I’d appreciate if you weren’t.”

During an earlier conference session, three college admissions representatives discussed best practices for institutions on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They were aware of the sentiment that the students expressed later: hostility toward colleges on social networking sites.

“We need to be careful, because students don’t want us creeping on them,” said Daniel Creasy, associate director of admissions at Johns Hopkins University.

He emphasized the superiority of a Facebook group over a Facebook fan page, which is more of a one-way channel. The student panel, too, expressed that preference.

Mr. Creasy acknowledged that in some cases, a school’s online audience may be largely internal. “On Twitter, our followers are mainly ourselves,” he said. “We tweet mainly to ourselves. But we love it.”

Other institutions have remained selective in their social media use. “We don’t use Twitter,” Chris Peterson, admissions counselor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said dryly. (The school is active on Facebook, though.)

Jeannine Lalonde, senior assistant dean of admissions at the University of Virginia, advised colleges to add some personality to their digital presences. “When schools are too official,” she said, “it may reinforce some of the fear students have about the admissions process.”

Ms. Lalonde also said that in an effort to respect students’ privacy, the university is more reactive in its social media strategy, allowing students to start conversations and guide the discussion.

Meanwhile, other colleges are trying to experiment with technologies that are not quite so mainstream. Mr. Creasy of Johns Hopkins said he was having student ambassadors look into Google+ as a potential admissions communications channel. “They tell me there’s nothing there, and I say: ‘Keep looking at it. Keep looking.’”

At the student panel, yet another social network was brought up: Foursquare. A Tulane University admissions officer sarcastically related his “ingenious” idea to offer students prizes when they “checked in” to campus for admissions tours and interviews, advertising to friends their current location.

“I ordered 500 pairs of Tulane sunglasses as prizes,” he said. “So far, we’ve given away two.”

“So, are you guys checking in or no?” he asked with hints of humor and desperation. “Is checking in not cool anymore?”

Not so much, it seems, and certainly not in the college admissions process, judging by the students’ lack of enthusiasm.

Another counselor suggested that students might like having the option to submit applications via mobile devices. She, too, was shot down. It appeared the student panel was more retro than the roomful of adults might have guessed.

“I would not fill out an application on my smartphone,” a young woman in high school replied dismissively. “We have computers for a reason.”

How would readers of The Choice most like to hear from a college? What do you think of colleges connecting with students on social media?

And, as we conclude our coverage of the NACAC conference in New Orleans, let us know your reactions. Did you attend yourself? Share your reactions and thoughts in the comment box below.

What do you think? Should a College Call, Text or Tweet?

[by REBECCA R. RUIZ via nytimes]

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