Technology is indispensable for the modern college student. Not only do phones and computers make their lives as students easier and more interesting, but they also provide a wealth of information related to the college admissions process. Databases like Big Future (searchable college information), Fastweb (scholarships and financial aid), and Niche (campus ratings and reviews) provide many different ways to get good information on your college choices. (See Resources for more links to great sites.)
Because today’s college-going students spend so much of their lives online, universities, high schools and independent counselors have bought into social media in a big way. Email campaigns can reach 100,000 prospective students for only the cost of the address list but are increasingly seeming old-fashioned. Websites like YouVisit offer virtual tours by slideshow or, increasingly, video. Students can research a school, estimate costs with a net price calculator and then send in an application (either through the school's website, the Common App or Universal App) without touching a single piece of paper. In addition to their websites, prospective students can make contact with colleges through online or Twitter “office hours,” blogs, Facebook groups, Youtube and Instagram.
Social media also offers a tidal wave of college admissions advice. Putting “college admissions process” into Google yields 13 million hits from both knowledgeable and not-so-knowledgeable sources. There are 111 million hits for just "college admissions." Youtube shows 233,000 videos tagged as “college admissions.” These videos include news media video, information from college admissions offices, and advice from college counselors. There are an additional 16.4 million “how to college” videos from college students themselves. It is easy for students to get overwhelmed or sent down the wrong path.
In this environment, it is crucial that we as college counselors and parents help our student(s) sort through this deluge of media and online information. Just because our kids are “digital natives,” that doesn’t mean they can critically evaluate the advice coming to them from random directions. The existence of Fafsa.edu and Fafsa.com—both spoof sites that charge you to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)(emphasis mine)—proves that attention to detail and double-checking sources is critical for all information found on the web. The internet has given us a multitude of ways to find all sorts of information about the college admissions process. It’s up to us to critically evaluate the information we find and to teach our students how to do the same.
Lessa Scherrer is an college admissions consultant who has worked with college-bound students for many years. She is a member of NACAC and WACAC and also teaches ACT Prep, speed-reading, college study skills and college-level writing.
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