The Impact of Modern Technology on College Applications

Submitted by on Wed, 06/29/16

Goodbye tedious college application essays. Hello application videos, virtual campus tours, Skyping with admission officials and chatting with college representatives via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The staid world of college applications seems to be undergoing a radical transformation, one brought about by academic institutions pursuing increasingly innovative ways to reduce the stress associated with the admissions process, while also reaching today’s prospective students via mediums they are most comfortable with.

Generation Z (those born in 1995 or later) is a generation in love with technology, visual learning and their Smartphones. In fact, college applicants around the globe are increasingly using their mobile devices to do everything from research schools to virtually touring prospective campuses and even completing applications. All of which is being factored into the college application process of the future.

At the same time such institutional efforts are unfolding, technology, on its own, has been profoundly impacting the process.

From admissions officials using social media to research applicants to applicants engaging directly with admissions staff via social media, the process seems to be growing vastly more humanized and reciprocal.

There are those who argue that something is being lost as technology infiltrates college admissions, that perhaps the application process is being watered down, or more frankly, dumbed down.

Yet others say the shift is merely a reflection of the times.

What’s New
Remember the old days, when students presented a highly curated portfolio of grades, essays and test scores as part of the college application process?

While it’s slightly tongue in cheek to describe such requirements as the old days, the fact is that the admissions landscape is changing.

Case in Point – Baltimore’s Goucher College, whose application process now involves submitting a two-minute video and two works from high school, only one of which must be graded. For those paying close attention, items not being requested here include an academic transcript, SAT scores, and essays.

Radical isn’t it?

A February 2016 article in The Week identifies four key changes now taking place. They include:

  • Virtual Visits – Because applicants are increasingly drawn from around the globe, colleges are implementing a variety of virtual campus tour offerings. The most straightforward option is a basic “visit,” during which prospective applicants go online and watch a video tour, sometimes led by a current student. Other colleges and universities have taken their game to the next level, allowing visitors to select what part of a campus they want to explore and in what depth. Still other tours offer 360-degree views.
  • Live Chats – In perhaps an example of academia mirroring the world of online sales, the Savannah College of Art and Design invites visitors to its website to chat online right then with an admissions representative. Penn State meanwhile, offers group chats for international students, accepted students, and prospective students.
  • Social Media – In addition to college admissions representatives reviewing a prospective student’s social media profiles, some academic institutions are inviting students who have been accepted to join private, online communities for admitted and current students. This example works very much like Facebook, where those involved post profiles, make friend connections and chat on message boards.

Yet another intriguing development outlined by The Week, is the advent of virtual college lockers. The lockers (being developed by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success) will be free, online repositories that students can begin accessing as early as ninth grade. Throughout the course of high school, students will be able to place videos, photos, written work and notes in the storage lockers – anything they feel might be helpful when it comes time to apply to college. And an added bonus – students will be able to invite trusted advisors to view the portfolio and offer advice.

The Impact of Smartphones and Generation Z
Much media coverage has been devoted to Generation Z’s technology likes and dislikes, styles and habits. But even if you missed all of the news coverage, all one has to do is look around at teenagers and their constant connection to smartphones to realize how important technology has become to their everyday existence.

Generation Z (also known as Plurals) has grown up with mobile phones as their primary source of information and communication.

Perhaps lesser known is the fact that college applicants around the globe have begun using mobile devices routinely to do all of those admissions chores we all did the old fashioned way (i.e. driving to schools, printing out applications etc).

In fact, a study published by Uversity, had students rank the top ways they use mobile phones for admissions-related activities. The top responses included visiting university websites, downloading university apps, viewing university social media, taking a virtual campus tour, and ultimately, submitting a college application.

As Generation Z continues to emerge and have its own impact on our culture, including the college application process, the various new ways of interacting with colleges and completing such applications will also likely continue to evolve.

On the Horizon – Reaching Generation Z Where They’re Comfortable
While it’s hard to predict the future with certainty, one thing is clear – Plurals or Generation Z has its own likes and dislikes, as well as quirks and characteristics.

This is a generation that doesn’t remember a world without smart phones, social media and instantly available information.

In addition, the tech savvy members of Generation Z prefer social networks like Snapchat, Secret and Whisper, and they’re leaving Facebook in favor of these new platforms.

They’re also visual learners, often with short attention spans. And they have come to expect an experience, whether with technology, social media or education, that is uniquely their own.

So what does this mean for the already evolving college application process or the college application of the future?

By many accounts, universities are revving up right now trying to answer such questions, in anticipation of serving, snagging and selling to this generation.

At the same time Generation Z is already beginning to look at colleges, which according to an Inside Higher Ed article, means we can be pretty sure they’ll require some changes in how institutions communicate with them during the application process.

This may mean simple shifts such as college admissions officials who just mastered the 140-character tweet, now learning to Snapchat. And on an institutional level, it may mean institutions figuring out how to tell their story in just a few seconds in a format that will not live forever.

Amid all these questions, one thing about the future is certain, the changes in the college application process have just begun.


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