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The next step is to explore social media sites, which often give the student perspective on campus life. This part of the search process is second nature for tech-savvy teenagers, who send a billion texts daily, according to studies by the Pew Research Center, which provides information on issues and attitudes that shape society.

“One of the most popular social media tools is Facebook,” Allen says. “It offers a less commercial, more informal point of view about campus life and college that students really respond to.”

In addition to Facebook, most colleges use Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. Typically, undergraduate admissions offices also will have social media sites for communicating with prospective students.

Photo galleries, videos and virtual tours can bring a college campus to life. Facebook and Twitter provide students the opportunity to have real-time exchanges with admissions staff, students and alumni, a level of connectedness that teenagers have come to expect.

“Facebook is a way for students to interact with admissions staff after office hours when they (students) are most active, from 7 to 11 p.m.,” Allen says. “They see a Facebook page as an official presence and as useful as a phone call. Our staff monitors and responds to students’ posts frequently. If a question requires privacy, we ask the student to call us.”

Twitter is a successful tool that has amassed more than 1,290 followers since the undergraduate admissions office launched its account in March 2009. (@USCColumbia)

“Like texting, Twitter lets students pose short questions and gives us (admissions staff) the ability to provide reminders about deadlines or newsy tidbits about the university and what’s happening on campus right now,” Allen says.

Students can expect to see more colleges using technology creatively, Allen says. USC will offer video chats in the evening this fall.

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