Embracing Big Brother

You’re too young to be jaded and cynical, students, yet I suspect your age doesn’t prevent you from having full knowledge of the fact I’m about to share with you. At the very least it won’t surprise you, jaded or not.

Colleges are tracking you online.

No, I don’t mean they’ve loaded spyware on your computer and no, I don’t mean they follow your every move on Instagram. Instead, I suspect you won’t be surprised at all to find out that many institutions of higher education use cookies on their web sites to automatically interface with their online recruitment management systems and record which pages of their sites you visit, how often you visit them, and how long you view each page. They also analyze your responses to their e-communications (read: they track which emails you click on and which you ignore) to know what information to send you next. (To do so, they use an algorithm similar to the one that Facebook uses when they continually bombard you with ads for those jeans you bookmarked online last week – or, in my case, you see ads for your own book (!).)

Said spying is all very Big Brother, no? It may even make you want to circumvent the system and hide as much of your college search from the institutions you’re interested in as possible, only making contact with them at the time of your application or on a campus visit.

My advice to you on the subject might sound counter-intuitive then because I say: Embrace Big Brother! Search and click to your heart’s content!

Here’s why:

The more information a college has about you and your college search – what your primary academic and extracurricular interests are, what might concern or worry you, what’s most important to you in your final college selection – the more pertinent information on the topics they can share with you. The more pertinent information they share with you, the easier it is for you to determine whether or not a continued relationship with the school is worth your time and energy.

In other words, the school can use the information they gather to approach you on your own terms – terms that you’ve set! And that isn’t so bad, is it? It means you can get some (slightly) personalized information and save you (some of) the hassle of searching for a specific program that may or may not exist on their campus.

What’s more, each institution has so many prospective students visiting their web pages on a daily basis – thousands of applicants each admission cycle – that even though they’re gathering (and using) data, they don’t have the time or manpower to examine and use all of it. (That’s what the embedded algorithm is for.) Thus by no means are they tracking every single one of your individual online movements – just like admission counselors might scan your social media feeds but they certainly aren’t looking beyond the surface or digging for dirt unless they see something particularly inflammatory in their initial perusal.

Summary: Colleges tracking your movements on their sites won’t hurt you – and it might even help in the long run.

So are you most interested in a school’s pre-medical placement rates for its graduates? Visit the page.

Weighing your horse boarding options? Search the boarding facilities pages for specific information and answers to your questions.

Concerned about costs? Many students and parents are – use the net price calculator to work out your potential expenses for your first year.

In other words, go about your college research with no reservations. Embrace Big Brother and let him embrace you right back – and if you need additional support along the way, contact me or pick up a copy of my book.


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