06/20/2011 02:06 pm ET | Updated Aug 20, 2011

Today's High School Graduate Uses Social Media to Navigate the Road to College

Earlier this week, I had the amazing pleasure of driving with my oldest son to his first prom (actually, just to the pre-prom party). I was so happy looking at my once adorable baby boy sitting next to me, morphed into a handsome man wearing a tuxedo. During our drive, my phone rang. I excitedly answered the phone and said to a friend, "I am going to the prom with Alec." Whereby Alec corrected me: he was going to the prom and I was simply driving him. Clearly, I was not going to the prom but experientially I was there. What he did not realize was that, it was my own parenting social experience which I shared with my own peers. Social media has allowed mothers (and others!) to experience even greater enthusiasm, excitement and involvement through the postings, texts and talk amongst the parents. Online involvement has transformed the high school experience, prom, and most significantly, the college application process. Not so much for the kids, as this is what they are accustomed to, but for the parents!

While that status hardly makes me a subject matter expert, it means that I do have first-hand knowledge of the digital impact in the high school graduation and college matriculation process in 2011. My learning has been a tapestry of information garnered via a variety of social media sites and talking with other parents. How different it is from my own graduation, circa 1978! And, it's a far-cry from my own college application process back in Michigan where most of my graduating class attended college locally either at Michigan, Michigan State or Wayne State University (my alma mater). Today's global learning possibilities offer much more variety, and competition, and access is rigorous. I found the college application process 2011 to be grueling and cruel as the student cohort is on "steroids." Additionally, global competition and social media sites have upped the bar significantly. Knowing how to play this "game" must be learned in the "college of hard knocks." There is a significant back story available only on social media sites rather than the rhetoric offered by college information sessions and tours.

Here is what I learned: social media was a great resource to gain information first-hand from students and their parents. But I also learned this: as far as being accepted at top schools today, it certainly doesn't hurt if you are an applicant from a small country in Africa, have written a book, been awarded at least one patent or a first-degree relative has recently donated a sizable building. If not, I highly recommend using social media sites to navigate the slippery slope. I witnessed the hopes dashed of many of my son's friends as they were turned away from colleges and universities inundated with uber-qualified applicants. According to an article on Bloomberg's website, Duke University received a record number of 29,500 applicants including an estimated 1500 valedictorians for around 1500 spots. What's a mother to do?

First, social media sites like Facebook and The Huffington Post's own College tab provided valuable insight and opinion on a variety of colleges and college experiences. The process of preparing and taking SATs and completing the "Common Application" (one that is accepted by over 414 colleges/universities) is a tedious one without any assurance of outcome. Additionally, most "top" schools additionally require some type of supplemental application and a few still remain stuck in their own unique application process. At my son's high school, completing the common application was almost a group effort and socially so. The grade received instruction together and naturally interacted about how best to fill each section. In terms of the question of "where" for college, a significant amount of social conversation occurred as kids discuss the pro's and con's of small vs large, public vs private, urban vs city campus and so on.

Colleges and universities have spent time/money/resources in revamping their marketing programs and creating new messaging to attract and recruit from the burgeoning global pool of uber-qualified applicants. Social media has led to being able to simulate a college environment through a website. On most sites, you can experience both a virtual and a real life campus tour. Today's HS graduates use sites like to get the "real scoop" on campus life behind the university's slick websites and collateral materials.

Facebook has also given a platform for college applicants to congregate and chat as they await their acceptance decisions. The acceptance medium has also changed. You log onto an online portal using an assigned password to learn the results. There is no longer the "thin envelope" and "fat envelope" which we sat by the mailbox awaiting for: thin envelopes indicated rejection and fat envelopes contained acceptance letters and the additional papers to be completed!

For college class 2015, they have already segregated into sub-groups on social media platforms soon after college offers had been accepted. Students socially and virtually congregated into groups, sorting on college attending, majors or other many common areas of interest. These Facebook groups help to create a pathway and a viral connection between a "class" of disparate high school graduates which ultimately becomes a community upon graduation. The newly-formed social community plans events, posts information and serves as a virtual forum for potential roommates to meet, and other like-minded students to engage virtually before ever stepping foot onto campus.

Once on campus, students will rely on the college/university portal for information which needs to be communicated. There are informal online meet-up groups which spring up according to the proclivities of the particular class. Some of these may be within the secure environment of the college/university's site while the majority are more informal on social media sites. Texting and Twitter round out the communication platforms most used by teens in high school and on college campuses.

And while I am "young enough" to know that social media can be used by colleges and universities in a collective fashion to communicate among students in an emergency, disseminate any essential information in a drilled down fashion, I am also "old" enough to know how quickly information can spread virally regarding a quickly organized party on campus, the low-down on a professor or particular class! Somewhere along the line as a mother, I have grown eyes in the back of my head...