Chat Electronically with College Students at the Schools You’re Thinking of Attending

By Sam Rosensohn

It’s a way for instant communication, instant feedback, and students often ask questions they would not ask if they had they been in the office of Chris Lewis, the assistant director of admissions at Binghamton University, or any other admissions office in the nation.

Binghamton is part of the growing number of schools that offers high school students the opportunity to find out more about college by Instant Messaging college students.

“It’s students talking to students,” Lewis said, “and they can get answers they want to hear without parents looking over their shoulders.”

Lewis said that students asking students about the food and dorms generally leads to a more candid and informative answer. “If they ask me, I’m going to tell them the food’s great. I’m going to offer the text book answer; Instant Messaging is usually one line or two lines – not the whole brochure.”

He noted that if a student asks an admissions officer, how many students are there on campus, the admission’s officer is likely to go into diversity or graduate school numbers, when all the student wanted to know was how many students there were on campus.

Avigail Hurvitz-Prinz recently graduated from Reed College in Portland, Ore. While she was there, she worked in the admission’s office, and answers prospective students’ e-mailed questions.

“They asked how am I going to survive the workload, am I going to get stressed out, why did you choose to go there, what are the things you would change there, what makes it special.”

Hurvitz-Prinz sees it as a “matchmaking relationship” and I think she’s spot on. The school’s got to fit if the student’s going to flourish. “Students don’t want to be misinformed when they’re making a decision about where they’re going to spend the next four years and really big buckets of money.

“E-mailing is a little bit easier than sitting by the phone, kind of nervous and stuttery. It’s less formal than a letter or a phone call and they know there is a student who is responding, which makes it a freer forum,” Hurvitz-Prinz said.

She noted that some of the conversations continue for a number of days and the conversations are not relayed to admissions counselors, nor was Hurevitz-Prinz coached in any manner, she said, on how to answer students or sell the school.

Hadar Borden, the assistant director for out of state student recruiting at the University of Buffalo, helped to launch the university’s Instant Messaging program. “For prospective students this is their language of communication so they find it to be fabulous.

“Giving students another way to interact with current students is another way for us to engage the prospective student and form a bond,” she said. And it seems to be doing just that.

Accepted students continue to IM for answers once they’re on campus – whether to change dining plans, or a class. “By the end of the recruitment cycle they really trust the Instant Messenger,” Borden said.

At the University of Buffalo Instant Message by students for students is available from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., which is great for high school students, who often settle into homework and Instant Messaging after dinner.

Keith Bryner, assistant director of admissions in charge of students at Carnegie Mellon, has worked over the last five years to establish chat rooms and message boards for interested candidates.

“Students looking for information expect to receive that information almost instantaneously,” says Bryner, who spoke of how the Pittsburgh school has built a library of responses so the college students manning the chat room can go to a pull down menu and fly the response through the chat room.

Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., has created an electronic program called ExpectMore, which permits students to get the inside track on admissions. They can also follow students through a semester, get tips on financial aid, or how to write a winning essay.

“ExpectMore is designed to give prospective students an avenue to get some inside information into the admissions process,” said Kent Rinehart, director of admissions.

“It’s in its infancy, it’s only four or five months old, we’re working out the kinks, but it’s been a great learning experience for us. Electronic communication is going to become a significant part of how to communicate with high school students,” Rinehart said.

“It’s also an inside look into our life; it’ll help students understand how we receive applications and why it takes so long to render a decision. More and more schools are hosting chats for students in the evening: that’s admissions counselors, faculty members from specific departments, coaches, financial aid representatives, and a whole host of options,” Rinehart said.

“If there are a lot of kids from Pennsylvania interested in Bentley,” Rinehart said,

“we can contact them and we can have three kids from Pennsylvania talking that night.”

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the New SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at sam@satprepct.com