The internet has undoubtedly changed the way we live and communicate. People are now able to share information not only with their friends and relatives, but also with complete strangers through the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Research shows that young people view communications on social media as more credible compared with traditional media and information provided by companies. And social media also has more impact on consumer decision making.
Prospective university students now come from a generation that is immersed in social media and digital technologies – and most students use these technologies extensively as a source of information, including as a way to choose their future university.
Previously, prospective students relied heavily on official university guides and rankings, but 83% of students now also use social media channels to help them make their university choices.
The real deal
By using social media, prospective students can get an unofficial, student view of a university, which they would not be able to find on official university web pages.
According to the National Centre for Universities and Business Facebook is the most popular social media channel for students searching for information. Twitter can be another great source of information and a way to ask university staff and current students questions.
Universities often provide information on the hashtags their students use. For example, at Oxford University #oxtweets is where students tweet about their lives there. Swansea University has created the hashtag #SwanseaGrad which can help prospective students get an inside look at the graduation spirit.
Other useful website include WhatUni, UniStats and the Student Room, all of which allow students to get information about the university experience beyond degrees and accommodation. Students can get a feeling about how they might “fit in”, how it feels to live and study in the place, and a sense of the community and social life at their new place of study.
Social media can also be a helpful tool for international students. UK universities have high numbers of overseas students, and it can be problematic for these students to try and visit their universities of interest to make a final decision. That’s where social media can help. The 2017 International Student Survey report shows the significant role social media plays for many students choosing a university.
Recently, universities have started using social media not just for prospective students and their parents, but also for receiving enrolment offers. One such example is the University of Bradford, where students can use Facebook to get offers during clearing time. This improves students’ experience of the clearing process, which can sometimes feel like “an emotional roller-coaster”.
But while many young people view online communications as trustworthy and reliable, in the age of fake news, fake universities and fake degrees, students must also be wary of fake social media accounts, that could easily sway their decisions.
So while students and their parents can get valuable insights online, they should always remember to look for verified accounts on Facebook and Twitter. These can usually be found on universities’ pages, together with the most accurate and up-to-date information about tuition fees and courses.
Going to university can be one of the most exciting experiences of a young person’s life. And it’s clear that social media now makes it easier than ever before to make a well-informed, life-changing decision. So for prospective students, choose wisely and enjoy the next stage in your life, wherever you might end up.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.