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Are More Students Using Social Media as a Search Engine?

6 min read

Sara Anderson
Social media can be useful for finding the best restaurant in town, and as a single source for finding reviews, authentic images, and testimonials from happy (and perhaps not-so-happy) customers.
When prospective undergraduate students use social media to research colleges and universities, they expect to find the same: a sneak peek of your school, and above all, 100% authenticity.
According to the Pew Research Center, over 90% of Americans between 18-29 engage with social media. When it comes to Gen Z, 99% of them own or have access to a smartphone.
We know they use it, but how and for what when it comes to the college search?
According to our 2022 State of Student Recruitment report, the top three ways students find their preferred program or school are by searching online (54.1%), university listing platforms (10%), and social media (9.2%). Word of mouth and email marketing account for a total of 9.1%.
 If the medium is the means, then which social media platform is most helpful for learning about a university? According to our April 2022 survey, the top mode is Instagram.
Facebook comes in second, followed by LinkedIn. In fact, since 2021, there has been a 94.1% increase on LinkedIn, giving colleges and universities new food for thought.
But Instagram is where students want to find information and authentic videos of academic, athletic, and campus life.
While teens’ social media consumption is mainly passive, a lasting impression is all it takes to spark interest. One of the best ways to do this on YouTube.
According to the U.S. internet population statistics, 81% of users on YouTube are 18-25, making it the largest audience on the platform. Campus videos on YouTube and “a day in the life” videos go a long way, but they must inspire action, like going to your most valuable tool - your website.
Maximizing these platforms and using them as an opportunity to showcase your institution, alongside traditional marketing methods will ensure your university is at the forefront of all platforms. These are some suggestions of content to capture the attention of students using social media as a search engine.


  • Diversity
Posts that show the diverse experiences of current students help students and parents feel as though they are not just another face in the crowd.
Prospective students research more than a school’s academic quality or campus life, but for many, YouTube videos and Instagram posts show the diversity of the student population and equity of services and programs. 
  • Campus Community
Out of 26 potential factors that may have influenced a student’s college choice, “look and feel of campus” was the seventh-most popular factor in a recent Student Voice survey.
Help students understand the benefits of your school beyond academics. Use Instagram and YouTube to post videos of a renowned professor’s lecture, students at a football game, volunteer events, diversity in action, and dorm life. Feature clubs, communities, and social opportunities on campus.
Simply put: Make it easy for students to imagine themselves at your college or university.
  • School and Program-Specific Rankings
Our research showed that rankings are the second item students search for on social media.
Rankings publications like U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review are a crucial part of how students determine the quality of a school or program.
 U.S. News & World Report ranks “Best Colleges for Veterans,” “Best Value Schools,” and “Best Undergraduate Teaching.” They provide more than 100 numerical rankings to help students narrow their college search. Likewise, The Princeton Review ranks schools in similar categories and lists.
  • How to use rankings
This shows the value of a degree from your institution and catapults your school as a strong contender during the college search. When your school or a program is listed in these rankings, it’s the perfect opportunity to splash this on your social media, webpage, and news publications. Add rankings to the footer of emails, and maximize their impact on your best bets: Instagram and YouTube.



Social Media for Higher Ed 

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