Cali Owings, Published April 09 2014
Incoming college freshmen use selfies to jump-start their connection to the schools they'll call homeHow does the “Me Generation” announce which college they’ll attend? With a selfie, of course.
With deadlines for high school seniors to firm up their post-graduation plans quickly approaching, college acceptances are in the air for colleges in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Excited future North Dakota State University, Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia College students are showing their college choice with pride by posting selfies on social media sites.
For these students preparing to leave home and high school for the first time, the pictures are about much more than likes. It’s a way to jump-start their connection to the school they’ll call home for the next four (or more) years.
The colleges, which help facilitate interactions between students on social media, say online connections help build a comfort and familiarity with the school before students even step foot on campus.
“We want [incoming students] to feel comfortable with the Dragon Family, to feel like they already have some roots down in our campus community prior to starting classes,” said Liz Gunter, assistant director of admissions at MSUM.
A new community
Taking selfies in college gear isn’t that much different from how students of previous generations signaled they were part of a new college community, said David Westerman, an assistant professor of communication at NDSU.
“This goes back to pre-social media stuff,” Westerman said. “Students and their families have long bought the college sweatshirt after they accept, and worn that around to let people know.”
In the same way, Westerman said connecting to the school on social media allows new students to feel like they’re a part of that community.
After Anoka (Minn.) High School senior Sami Ploeger received her acceptance letter from NDSU last fall, she immediately posted a picture of herself with it on Facebook. She said it was her “most-liked photo ever” and helped her share the news with people in her family that she doesn’t talk to on a daily basis.
Identifying herself as a future NDSU student on social media helped Ploeger connect with other incoming freshmen at the school, including a future roommate.
Ploeger joined a Facebook community for the school’s new freshmen where she can get to know other people, ask questions and learn more about what her first year on campus will be like. Another future student saw Ploeger’s posts and messaged her because they had a lot in common and could become roommates. Even though Ploeger has three friends from high school also attending NDSU, she wanted to branch out.
The pair went out to dinner, met for coffee dates and even had a sleepover in preparation for their life together in the dorms next year. Her friends from high school used Facebook to do the same thing.
“I feel like I already know so many people and I haven’t even been there yet,” she said.
Brad Jones, an admissions counselor at NDSU who works with the class Facebook page of more than 600 students, said social media is a quicker way for students to make connections.
“Our goals are to help them feel more of a connection with the school and others that are coming in,” he said.
Jones will share a few announcements or try to boost interaction, like asking students to share photos of themselves watching the Bison men’s basketball team play in the NCAA tournament. But most of what happens on the page is driven by the students – asking questions, sharing their interests and seeking out other students.
This is the first year the school has used the page, and Jones said they will probably do it for next year’s incoming class.
MSUM’s admissions office likes to use social media because that’s where the students “live,” Gunter said. They try to have fun with students and maintain exposure for the school.
MSUM responded to Kendra Collins on Instagram after she posted a picture of her cat wearing a beanie with the school’s logo, asking if he could come with her, too.
“If my cat wears this, can he come to college with me?” the Minot High School student asked in the post.
The school’s social media team was quick to respond – “You’ll have to talk to housing and residential life about this one.”
Many MSUM students like Collins were admitted on the spot at events on campus and throughout North Dakota and Minnesota. The school provided a photo booth where students posed with their acceptance letters.
Gunter said the school aims to recognize newly accepted students in person and online to boost their self-esteem and help them share the news with family members.
Collins said she immediately posted her acceptance letter online during her visit to the school.
To some degree, sharing acceptance letters online is self-promotional, Westerman said, and people selectively self-present as a way of managing impressions online.
Most people will show the most positive version of events. The full story is reserved for a smaller, closer social circle – like if a student decides to attend his second or third-choice school.
“If you didn’t get into your top school, you wouldn’t necessarily tell your first cousin,” Westerman said.
Posting about his accomplishments on social media isn’t Duncan Saum’s style. While he maintains profiles on the top social networking sites, he said his posts are few and far between.
When the reserved Central Cass High School student got into Harvard University, he left the Facebook storytelling to his mother, Paula Mehmel. She posted a picture of him wearing a 25-year-old T-shirt she got while visiting a friend in Boston in 1989. He wore it to school the day after he received his acceptance letter.
“If my mom had not had the T-shirt, most people would not know because I wouldn’t have told them,” Saum said. “It was really only about the story.”
He hasn’t yet decided where he’s going to school but said when he does, he’ll tell the important people in his life offline first and maybe consider posting on social media sites.
“I don’t want to make a huge spectacle out of it,” he said. “I am not a very showy person.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599