Social media has become ingrained in nearly every aspect of society, playing a role in everything from mass marketing campaigns to career networking. Now, unsurprisingly, it’s playing a larger and larger role in the college admissions process – from researching and communicating with potential colleges, right down to a student’s admissions profile. And with the right approach, an informed student can use this trend to his or her advantage. Who would’ve guessed that spending more time on Facebook would actually help you get into college!

Colleges are increasingly using social media to recruit applicants.

According to a recent study by the Center for Marketing Research, 78% percent of admissions officers surveyed reported that social media tools have changed the way they recruit potential students, and that 86 percent of surveyed schools plan to increase investments in these tools during the next year.

The reason? The first is the widely recognized reality that many students practically live online, and many use social media as a primary means of searching out and obtaining news. Having a presence on social media allows colleges to participate in the discussion when students are deciding where to apply and enroll. The other reason is more practical in nature – social media is both less expensive and, in some cases, more effective than the traditional media of print, television, and radio.

Admissions officers engage students through social media.

As a result, students should not shy away from extending their research of potential colleges to Twitter and Facebook. Many colleges routinely post about everything from campus and student life to admissions information. Moreover, so do many individual admissions officers. MIT’s Director of Admissions Matt McGann has an extremely informative blog and Twitter feed. Engaging with colleges on social media can greatly enhance your knowledge of what attending would actually be like, and can inform your decisions about whether to apply, and later, whether to enroll.

Not to mention that doing so can be extremely entertaining.  For example, Tuft’s Dan Grayson, a self-proclaimed “Karaoke Master/Admissions Officer/Eater of Everything, boasts a lively Twitter feed, and frequently updated blog on which he posts on subjects ranging from admissions deadlines to internet memes. He also, on January 1st of this year, conducted a helpful and informative AMA (“Ask Me Anything,” a live, conversational forum on Reddit, a social news site) to answer last minute questions, and generally, chat. Additionally, many colleges and universities set up Facebook groups for admitted students. Be sure, when you’re admitted, to join and engage!

Students can use social media to strengthen chances of admission.

Social media engagement, however, goes both ways. Students should be aware that, just as they’re examining colleges’ social media profiles, colleges are increasingly examining theirs. According to a recent survey conducted by Kaplan, 27% of admissions officers checked Google and 26% looked on Facebook as part of their applicant-review process. A full 35% of those doing so reported finding material that negatively impacted their view of a student.  It would be wise for students to take steps to appropriately manage their social media presence during the process. This means carefully reviewing (and, if necessary, censoring) all material posted to Facebook and Twitter.

On the flip side, students have the opportunity to enhance their admissions chances by adding content to profiles that will make a positive impression and present aspects of yourself that you’d like colleges to be aware of. For example, a student might consider posting that album of photos from last summer’s community service trip. Or a student could create a website to promote his or her start-up business — of repairing computers, performing magic or making movies – and thereby illustrate entrepreneurial skills. And while social media won’t make or break an application, it can help to bring a student’s application to life, and help admissions officers get a better sense of the person they’re admitting.