The first year of college is when students determine how they fit within their school and ultimately whether or not they will continue to attend that school. Higher ed is also figuring out how to fit social media not only into their institution, but additionally to specific departments like First Year Experience. Despite FYE’s importance, resources and guidance using social media in this area is still scarce and remains untapped.
There are some colleges though who are doing their best to provide resources for faculty, staff and students to enhance student first year experience. Out of the 50 Schools with Top FYE Programs, 48 have a Twitter account, 45 have a Facebook Page, and only 15 have Admissions of Student Life related blogs.
Top 5 FYE Websites
Out of the 50 Colleges, there are six that stood out to me as a student (in no particular order):
Look and Feel
Attractive, simple and straight forward. Like with any web user, obvious and easy will keep a college student’s attention. Some things I liked about these Top 5 schools were that they included visuals (appropriate pictures and attractive graphics), topics were easy to find (clear navigation bars and lists), and pages were easy to navigate through. I think visuals are an essential part to creating a first impression with your school. Some of the 50 websites I visited gave varying impressions that made me characterize a school to be school-spirit and community driven or overly playful and technologically backward. Another thing to consider is the amount of text on school websites. Some of the 50 websites could have easily qualified for being a part of my Top 5 list if it weren’t for the fact that the wordiness turned me off from continue navigating through the site any longer. Being too wordy can be intimidating–something that a first year student should never experience.
Use of Social Media
Twitter accounts should be easy to find and should be obviously managed by the school. Almost half of the schools had a Twitter account for multiple departments. Others, unfortunately, only had either their News/Media Relations department and Athletics department as the only school accounts searchable on Twitter or Google. I understand how this can be great for fans and alumni across the country, but for prospect or newly admitted students, this may not cut it in enhancing school experience.
Facebook Pages are a great way to push information and updates to fans and, if schools are willing to take the challenge, can allow the school to interact with students through wall posts and discussion topics. Some of the 50 Schools have used their Facebook Page as a landing page to direct visitors back to the actual school website.
Blogs include Admissions Blogs and Student Life Blogs featuring students and staff sharing their experiences and advice for new students. I find that this is a great way to offer accounts of actual peer-experience, not what Admissions Officers think students experience.
Integration of Twitter, Facebook, and blogs into these FYE websites is important for gaining subscribers and followers because it makes these social media tools known to site visitors who may not make the effort to look for your presence in these social media.
Probably the main reason first years visit their school’s FYE site is to have questions answered. A perfect FYE Department would have gone through all the research to find the most common topics that first years usually have questions about. For my Top 5 schools, it seems like they have done just that. Unlike the other schools’ sites I’ve seen, my Top 5 schools don’t flood their website with every FAQ that has been asked. For more less common questions, a good FYE website would direct a visitor to another departmental page or even have a counselor ready to answer questions on a forum or through instant message chat.
Keeping first year students engaged with your school and with each other before and during their first year is critical to retention. One main way schools do this is through their school’s websites. It is important for the content on these websites to be helpful and relevant. What’s just as important is reaching out to student where they are already present, such as Twitter and Facebook. These Top 5 schools are a good example of trying to meet both important elements.
To see more detail about why I chose these 5 schools, read Five Impressive First-Year Experience Websites.
See the original post on Inigral's blog.