Freshman Kristen Jones knew she wanted to go to Ithaca College since her sophomore year of high school. She took the ACT, wrote her essays and applied to the college regular decision in December. While she waited for her admissions decision, she set up an account on IC Peers, adding a profile picture and accepting future classmates’ friend requests online, checking the site about once a week.
What Jones didn’t know was that each interaction she made on IC Peers was potentially increasing her chances of admission at the college.
IC Peers is the college’s own social media site, much like Facebook, that allows students to create a profile, upload photos and “friend” potential classmates and educators at the college. Students are able to interact with one another prior to and after they receive their admissions decisions.
Gerard Turbide, interim vice president of the Division of Enrollment Management at the college, said the approach to admission at the college takes into account the engagement a prospective student makes with the school, long before they step foot on campus in the fall — a practice that was most recently highlighted in an article by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news organization focusing on innovation in education which was featured on the website of “PBS NewsHour” late last month. This PBS article cited the college as using a Big Brother approach to identifying which students are most likely to stay at the college after their freshman year.
The article discussed the college’s participation in the trend reflected nationwide. The admissions office tracks students’ conversations with faculty, attendance at pre-admittance events and also their interactions on the school-sanctioned social media site IC Peers, all to gauge how likely a student is to accept and enroll at the college in the fall — factors that in turn, can lead to their admission.
Turbide said this process does not follow a formula, however it is used to make sure that the college accepts students that are most likely to attend the school and “persist” to graduation.
“What we see is there’s [a] positive correlation between students’ interactions and the likelihood to enroll,” Turbide said. “The kind of interactions that seem to indicate engagement are if you upload a profile photo, if you are making friends with other students, we get a sense that you are more interested in Ithaca. You are more engaged in the process.”
Turbide said among indicators like uploading a profile picture on IC Peers, things like adding friends, posting a message in a forum or joining a group all show that a prospective student is interested in engaging with the college community, and to a degree, more likely to be successful at the college in the future.
However, while Turbide said the website is taken into account, the primary emphasis has always been, and continues to be, on academic success and rigor in high school. However, because the college takes to the admissions process “holistically,” numerous factors are taken into account, all of which influence a student’s admission decision.
One common misconception when it comes to using this data in the admissions process, Turbide said, is the idea that the school is “quietly collecting data” about students without their knowledge or consent. He said there is a big difference between the kind of environment that IC Peers promotes and using students’ personal social media data to make an admissions decision, which he says, the college does not do.
“There is a real distinct difference between an environment like IC Peers, which is specifically designed to facilitate prospective student interactions with Ithaca College, and what you post on Instagram, which we don’t look at,” Turbide said. “Ithaca College is not collecting what you do on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or Yik Yak, or any other social media.”
While Jones made efforts early and often to connect with the community, freshman Tony Cosby remembers logging onto the site “maybe once or twice” only to accept a request from the assistant director of admission involved with the scholarship program he applied to.
“I didn’t use IC Peers until after I was admitted,” Cosby said. “It’s weird because you have to put information out for everyone out there before you’re even admitted. It felt weird to try to, like, connect myself with a bunch of other people who are applying, who I didn’t know if they would even attend, and present myself in a certain way to them.”
While some students used the website more frequently than others, Turbide said admission is not an exact science. In the end, he said it all just comes down to the overall review, including components such as test scores, transcripts and essays.
“The important thing to understand about the holistic approach is it’s all about all the small things together and students as individuals, and that’s what makes it a great process,” Turbide said.