White Plains High School senior Samantha Standard wants to major in science, and she has her sights set on a few universities, including Columbia, Duke and Northeastern.
But she's taken others off her list, in part because they didn't pass the Yik Yak test.
"I don't know how many kids are using it for college searches, but I've definitely ruled out a few schools because their Yik Yak conversations are about nothing," said Standard, 17. "Social media is just another way to find out about the schools. It gives you information that's different from what's on the college websites and mailings."
"It's not the official stuff that they want you to see," she said.
Yik Yak, a digital bulletin board that allows users to "listen in" on chatter at campuses nationwide, is one of a growing number of social media tools that high-schoolers are turning to for help finding the right college.
A survey released this year by Zinch, a college-admissions portal that links students and colleges online, found that two-thirds of high school seniors use social media to research colleges — and nearly three-fourths say it influenced their decisions.
Nearly 85 percent of the 1,800 high school seniors and college freshmen surveyed said they used Facebook in their research. But other apps are catching up. According to Zinch, Twitter use for college research rose from 43 percent at the start of 2012 to 54 percent by the end of 2013. Over the same time span, Instagram use by students rose from 30 percent to 53 percent, tumblr from 30 percent to 40 percent, and Pinterest from 24 percent to 30 percent.
"I definitely have seen the changes in how students are actually engaging with admissions offices, how they're doing their research, whether they're using peer-review sites like Yik Yak or something like a College Prowler," said Bob Patterson, vice president of college outreach for Chegg, the online educational services company that owns Zinch.
Apps such as Yik Yak are quickly entering the fray. Designed for college students, Yik Yak has been controversial because it has been tied to cyberbullying and school threats. But Yik Yak's "peek" function also allows users to select a college campus nationwide and read student posts there to get a feel for the social climate.
"I think the opportunity to connect through mobile makes it somewhat easier, and it's just the way students interact," Patterson said. "They're going to use whatever services they can to connect with institutions."
Deborah Shames, a certified counselor helping about a dozen Rockland County students with college applications, said it's not just college hunters who use social media: College-bound students use it to begin the transition.
"They're already lining up roommates and reaching out to people attending the schools, to get a more personal view of what it's like to go there," Shames said. "They look for people they know, or people from their high schools who are now attending that particular college or university."
One of the newer apps targeting college students is Kampus, launched last year by two students at Lindenwood University in Missouri. Kampus is a free social networking app that connects college students with others in the same school. The app has recently been introduced at Manhattanville College in Purchase.
"I think that prospective students should get the most amount of information, regardless of where it comes from or in what way it's packaged," Kampus CEO Diego Kafie said. "However, several things, like counselor meetings and campus visits, should still be important for a student trying to make a very important decision."
College-bound students haven't abandoned more traditional resources. Zinch found that 54 percent still rated official school websites "extremely useful," while 48 percent chose college review and scholarship sites such as Zinch and College Prowler. Only 10 percent rated social media sites as extremely useful.
Standard, the White Plains High School senior, said social media "isn't a huge part of my application process, but it has made a difference in deciding where I want to go."
"Yik Yak tells you more about the social aspects of a school — what they do for fun, the kinds of things you might not see if you go on an official campus tour," she said. "It gives you a direct link to the kids going there."
"Yik Yak brings you into their world," Standard added. "The social factors do count."
Students and social media
• 68% of students surveyed said social media was influential in their choice of college.
• 85% of students said they use Facebook, with 45% saying they use it multiple times a day.
• Instagram was the fastest rising site: 54% of students use it, up from 30% at the start of 2012.
• 73% said colleges should have a presence on social media to reach students.
• Students said only 44% of posts on existing college websites were relevant to their searches.
• 54% still found college and university websites extremely useful, compared to 10% for social media.
Source: Zinch 2014 Social Admissions Report