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Social media builds community among incoming freshmen

Although Stanford doesn’t disclose roommate assignments until freshmen arrive for New Student Orientation, many incoming students get started early on meeting their new classmates and neighbors online.

Jonathan Fisk ’16 friended over 1,000 members of the Official Stanford Class of 2016 Facebook page in anticipation of the new school year. He considered the platform a community-building tool.

“When I got here I had so many close friends already… [The Facebook group] was a great way to get to know the school on a more personal level as well as the people we would be with for the next four years,” Fisk said.

According to Freshman Transition Coordinator Meyli Chapin ’14, who ran the Approaching Stanford Facebook page and Class of 2016 group, administrators rarely intervened in the student dialogue, preferring instead to let each class’ culture develop.

In choosing between Stanford and Harvard, Fisk attributed this unrestricted discussion on the group wall as a defining factor.

“Obviously both schools are really smart, but Stanford’s the one having fun… A lot of people can be academically serious and then two minutes later be as goofy as possible,” Fisk said.

Facebook was not the only social media platform bringing freshmen together prior to their arrival on campus, with some freshmen taking advantage of chat-rooms and Google Hangouts for correspondence. According to Director of Admission Colleen Lim M.A. ’80, the Stanford Admissions Twitter feed received over 100 hits per hour “at high points in the admissions season.”

The Confessions from Stanford blog also allowed members of the incoming freshmen class to share their stories of transitioning to Stanford.  According to a Daily article published earlier this year, the blog received over 40,000 hits in 103 countries between the end of June and September.

Eric Wilson ’16, who wrote for the blog, acknowledged the blog’s characterization of the freshman class as overly bold and presumptuous but maintained that it served as an outlet for bonding and shared excitement.

“The original purpose of the blog was to serve as a transition from high school to the beginning of Stanford,” Wilson said. “I’d say that people forgot that… but it was a nice way of leaving a memento as a class.”

Lim framed community building as the largest advantage of using social media in the acceptance process but emphasized the value of dialogue between students and administrators.

According to Lim, social media provided the Class of 2016 with unprecedented access to Stanford representatives and Freshman Transition Coordinators that earlier incoming classes did not have. Freshmen could post directly to the Approaching Stanford Facebook page questions– ranging from ideal shower caddies to Thinking Matters courses– and expect a timely response.

According to Chapin, Stanford will emphasize in the future the fact that fellow students run the Facebook wall to reduce apprehension about asking questions.

Chapin also noted that activity on the freshman group’s wall was higher than anticipated. Especially towards the end of the summer, administrators struggled to respond to the vast number of posts requiring a response, prompting the Office of Undergraduate Admission to hire a permanent director of marketing and communications and collaborate with outside consultants to improve their responsiveness.

“A good conversation we want to have with focus groups is about the pros and cons [of social media],” Lim said.

Although social media has provided Stanford with plenty of advantages in the admissions process, high levels of social media activity affects students in a variety of ways. Prospective freshman Miles Kool said the Class of 2017 Facebook group could unfairly define the entire class by the actions of a few students.

“The group is good for a very limited amount of people who are really outgoing or want to talk about their accomplishments,” Kool said. “While it’s a good way to communicate and stay up to date with fellow admits, it can be intimidating to many of us. You are constantly comparing yourself to others.”

Fisk, Wilson and Matthew Arkin ’16, who were all active on the 2016 Facebook group, agreed that they had made better friends in person on campus than online. Kool described friend requests from fellow admits as somewhat premature.

“I’m going to wait until I meet people in person to decide if we will form any lasting bonds,” Kool said.

In addition to creating misconceptions about one’s future classmates and creating the potential to interact with false friends online, social media also can amplify anxieties among incoming freshmen exposed to an increased level of transparency.

“We had a worry that there was too much activity… Students got worked up over so many questions, and it all added to the stress,” Chapin said. “These things will work themselves out.”

After the academic year began, Stanford turned over the Class of 2016 Facebook group’s administration to students in the hope that it would continue to bring the class together.

“We don’t monitor it anymore– it is all yours,” Lim said. “The Facebook page stays with the class forever.”