Colleges deploy social media in scramble to recruit best students

Today’s high school juniors and seniors still get phone calls and piles of brochures in the mail from colleges and universities across the country, but social media and technology are changing the recruiting game.

At the Milwaukee National College Fair on Sunday, quick bar code scans allowed admissions counselors from 272 schools to instantly acquire the email and snail mail addresses for any of the 5,000 high school students who stopped by their booths.

The students obtained their bar codes by signing up online for the fair, and they gave them out selectively but freely Sunday at the Wisconsin Center. Schools increasingly are jockeying for the best and brightest, and students play the field more than ever.

Within the first 90 minutes, admissions counselors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison had scanned about 300 prospective students into their database. Even the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau had scanned about 20.

A Bucky Badger postcard at the UW-Madison booth invited prospective students to follow the admissions office on Twitter and to ask questions on Facebook. The university has other social media accounts on Vine and Instagram.

UW-Madison’s admissions office saw a 90% increase in Twitter followers, 57% increase in Facebook “likes” and 38% increase in YouTube views over the past year, said Ken Cutts, recruitment and media services manager in the Office of Admissions and Recruitment.

It’s never been easier for high school students to shop around for colleges — and for colleges to tell their story on multiple platforms. The typical high schooler at least has an email address and usually is on Facebook. Many college-bound students also are on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Foursquare.

No need to pick up the phone, though college officials say they still consider human contact important to the college search and admissions process.