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When 17-year-old Ellie Fogel began her college search, she looked beyond school websites and Google searches — she logged into Snapchat.
Fogel, a senior at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, said that the popular messaging app gives her a real-world view of a school’s culture. “If you’re visiting a college or you get a Snapchat from someone who’s visiting a college and they have a filter, you assume, at least for me, that school is a lot of fun and they’re in the school spirit,” she said.
It’s a growing trend among young adults, and increasingly, colleges are joining the social media conversation through university Snapchat accounts and geofilters.
Geofilters — defined on Snapchat.com as “special overlays for Snaps that can only be accessed in certain locations” — are used in Snapchat pictures and videos as a way for users to tell their friends and followers where they are.
As college admissions offices saw the rise in geofilter popularity, many hopped on the bandwagon. Erin Potter, senior director of communications at New York University’s Stern Undergraduate College, said that the planning process for the school’s geofilter began shortly after the feature became publicly available in December 2014. The school held a contest among students to pick the design, which it has used since last spring.
With Snapchat recently surpassing Twitter as the third most popular social application among younger generations, according to data from comScore, it doesn’t look like this trend will die out anytime soon. While Facebook remains the most popular social app in for those 18- to 34-year-olds, with 75.6 percent smartphone penetration as of June 2014, Snapchat’s reach skyrocketed from 12.1 percent in November 2013 to 32.9 percent in June 2014, surpassing Twitter’s 23.8 percent and moving just behind Instagram’s 43.1 percent.
According to The Statistics Portal, half of all Snapchat users were between the ages of 13 and 17 as of July 2014, making it clear to colleges that this application is a young person’s game: the exact audience that higher institutions are looking to reach.
"Many of our students have friends who are in the midst of their college search,” Marissa Jansen, coordinator of marketing and social media for DePauw University, told TODAY. “Our hope is that they will see our geofilters, increasing our brand awareness.”
Potter agrees. "It’s a nice way to show our school culture and our pride," she said.
New York University’s Stern School of Business also has its own Snapchat account that anyone can follow regardless of their proximity to campus. Potter said this account helps prospective students see that, although New York University is a large school in an urban area, individual voices are still heard.
"By and large the content that we’re providing on Snapchat is created by current students, so we’re really allowing prospective students to see and hear an authentic voice,” she said.
Different schools use the application in different ways. In contrast with New York University’s large urban presence, DePauw University is a small liberal arts college located in the small town of Greencastle, Indiana. Jansen said the geofilter aids the school in getting people’s attention as they pass through the area.
“Larger universities have more brand recognition because of their size,” she said, “but for a small liberal arts university, geofilters help to increase our overall brand recognition.”
In addition to the geofilters, DePauw University has a Snapchat account operated by students. Jansen said the authenticity and fluidity of Snapchat distinguish it from other forms of social media.
“Snapchat allows us to show the true day in the life of a DePauw student,” she said. This is in contrast to other social media platforms, where multiple posts are often necessary to showcase different events.
“It’s a way for us to engage with the audience in a space where they already are in a way that feels authentic,” Potter said. “If they’re using it, that’s where we want to be.”