I've given many presentations on Reddit over the last few years and after many of them, an attendee will privately come up after and ask a question I’ve become used to fielding. It usually goes something like this.
“So, umm, what types of questions should I be looking for, exactly?”
I’ve been writing, tweeting, and speaking about Reddit now for a little over a year, and as much as I try to make Reddit more accessible for higher education professionals, I’m still struck by how intimidated campus administrators are by the popular platform.
So today, I’m hoping to pull back the curtain of Reddit juuuuuust a bit more by sharing the most common questions I see asked on Reddit. I'm sharing links to examples of each post, as well as information on where you can find them, when they’re most likely to be asked, and how or if you should respond. I also tried to call out how the global COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way, or frequency, in which these questions are asked.
The “Blind Date”
- “Probably going to attend UMass Amherst... Could any current students tell me about their experience?”
- Considering Louisiana Tech
What It Is: If you’ve ever been on a blind date, or set someone else up on a blind date, you know the questions either party is likely to ask. Similarly, students often turn to Reddit to ask fairly broad questions about campuses they’ve been accepted to, especially if they didn’t anticipate being accepted by that campus, didn’t anticipate receiving such a general financial package by that campus, or applied on a whim because they added the campus while applying to college with the Common App.
When It’s Posted: These questions are often asked between March and July. Because early decision/early action students face different circumstances, this question is primarily asked by students who applied regular decision to a large number of campuses. As acceptances roll in, these students suddenly find themselves considering or even leaning towards a campus they don’t know much about. Alternatively, this question could be asked by a student who is accepted off the waitlist, with little time to visit campus or make a decision.
Where It’s Posted: You’re most likely to find this question asked in the community—or subreddit, for those of you more familiar with Reddit—dedicated to the college admissions process, r/ApplyingToCollege. However, you might also find this question asked in your campus’ dedicated subreddit. If your campus doesn’t have a dedicated subreddit, consider following the subreddit for the surrounding community. Depending on how rural or urban your campus is, that might be the subreddit for the town (Bloomington, Indiana), city (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), or even state (Wyoming) where your campus is located.
Should You Respond? No, but you should encourage a student ambassador to answer. When it comes to questions like this, students aren’t looking for academic information so much as they’re looking for insight into the student experience. They want to know if the dining hall is good, what people do on the weekends, or what the weather is like. A student response to this question, or even a young alumni, is going to carry significantly more weight than the opinion of an administrator.
The “Weigh In”
- Help me decide! USC vs Notre Dame
- Help Me Decide: School X vs School Y Week of March 30
- Deciding between UIUC, U-M, GaTech Without Physical Visit Opportunities
What It Is: While some students get accepted to their dream campuses with full scholarships, the reality for most students is acceptance to multiple campuses with varying levels of tuition rates and financial aid packages, forcing them to make a tough decision.
And while most students can certainly rely on parents, friends, and family to help them with their decision, many students turn to Reddit for input as well. These posts often take the form of College X vs. College Y, and have become so common, the ApplyingToCollege subreddit started creating a megathread each week dedicated to these posts. As of this writing, the current megathread, linked in the examples, has 1.7K comments and counting.
There is a ton of value to take from these posts. Students often share their academic and extracurricular activities, the offers they’ve received from each campus, and what they like and don’t like about each campus. As an administrator, that means you can gain insight into your competitive set, what students like and dislike about your campus, and—thanks to the resulting comments—how students generally perceive your brand.
These posts are increasingly more common in recent years, but are likely to become even more frequent in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the sudden inability to visit campus. You’ll actually notice in the example comparing UIUC, U-M, and Georgia Tech that the student includes they’re making a decision without an opportunity to physically visit any of the campuses in the headline of their post.
When It’s Posted: These posts start popping up before students even receive acceptance letters, but they really flood Reddit starting in March. With many campuses moving decision dates back to June 1 this year, and with the 2019 changes to NACAC’s ethical guidelines, I suspect these posts will continue well into the summer.
Where It’s Posted: The majority of these posts are shared in the ApplyingToCollege subreddit, though you occasionally see them shared in a campus’s dedicated subreddit. In the latter scenario, I find students are really just looking for confirmation that they’re making the right decision, whereas in the former scenario, it’s much more of a toss-up.
Should You Respond? No, but you should encourage a student ambassador or young alumni to answer. As a campus administrator, your answer to this question is likely to come across as biased. But student posts are incredibly influential in these scenarios. One note of warning here: if you’re working with a student ambassador to respond to these questions, don’t try to influence their answer. Students may get the benefit of the doubt, but if their post is unabashedly glowing, it too is likely to be met with a level of skepticism.
The “Cold Feet”
- Make me love UC Berkeley 🐻
- Make me love the University of Rochester
- Make me love Villanova and hate Bucknell plz 😢
What It Is: I call posts that include “Make me love…” or “Make me hate…” cold feet posts because they often come from students who are 90 percent sure they’ve made their decision, but for whatever reason have trouble making that decision final. A “make me love” post is a student’s attempt to get affirmation that they’re making the right decision and won’t regret their choice in college.
Alternatively, “make me hate” posts are often shared by students who weren’t accepted to their preferred campus or are preparing to make the difficult decision not to attend their preferred choice due to financial reasons—the example involving Villanova and Bucknell fits the bill here.
When It’s Posted: Like many of the most commonly asked questions on Reddit, cold feet prompts are largely asked during the spring, when students receive their acceptances and financial aid packages and need to make a decision.
Where It’s Posted: These posts are fairly isolated to the ApplyingToCollege subreddit.
Should You Respond? Yes and no. If you see a “Make me love…” post, you should absolutely pass that mention to—you probably know where this is going—a student ambassador who can respond appropriately. But if you’re mentioned in a “Make me hate…” post, your best course of action is to steer clear. If you’re mentioned in a post that includes both prompts, this is a scenario where you should provide clear instructions to your student ambassadors to only focus on your campus. The students behind these posts are fairly far down the road in their decision making process; there’s no reason to speak negatively of a competing campus here.
- Anyone know if this is legit or got a similar text?
- UVA acceptance letter doesn’t state which choice major I got in for
- How to get off the waitlist at UVA?
What It Is: When we’re talking about tactical questions, we’re not talking about a single inquiry like the other questions in this list. Instead, tactical questions are very specific questions about your campus on Reddit. They might be about upcoming deadlines, where to send specific documents, or how to appeal decisions or scholarship offers.
While the topic changes, tactical posts are different from other questions because opinions from other Redditors are less helpful here; OPs (original posters) need facts.
When It’s Posted: Year-round.
Where It’s Posted: Some campuses find the majority of these posts in their dedicated subreddit. That’s especially true for those that are larger and those that are more selective. But for campuses with less active subreddits, or who don’t have a subreddit, the ApplyingToCollege subreddit is the most likely option.
Should You Respond? Yes! Tactical questions are likely the only questions on Reddit where your role as a campus administrator is a benefit, rather than a hurdle to overcome. The prospect of engaging with students on Reddit may cause you to start sweating; I get it. But know that as long as you provide factually-based, non-biased responses to these questions, your students won't just tolerate your presence on Reddit—they'll welcome it.
That's not just my opinion. The examples of tactical posts I've included come from the University of Virginia and Western University, in Canada. That's not by mistake. UVA Associate Dean of Admission Jeannine Lalonde is the best in the business when it comes to responding to prospective and admitted students on Reddit, within the dedicated UVA subreddit and the popular ApplyingToCollege subreddit.
Further north, Day Kibilds, Manager of Undergraduate Recruitment at Western University, has been frequently responding to prospective and admitted student posts in Western's dedicated subreddit since the start of 2020. And it's making a difference. Students at Western University have publicly and privately thanked her for her contributions on the subreddit. "We've been able to provide much more accurate information now to students," wrote one current student. "I wish this help was available when I was applying," wrote another.
The “Just Trying to Get Started”
What It Is: In our report, Social Listening in Higher Ed: The College Admissions Journey, released earlier this year, we found that admitted students tend to publish conversation online more than prospective students. It feels appropriate then that the majority of the most commonly asked questions on Reddit come from admitted students.
One common question that comes from prospective students, however, concerns building their college list. Often, the students behind these posts are worried they’re missing an obvious choice. It’s hard to attend your dream school if you didn’t apply, after all. Therefore, these posts often include a student’s academic statistics, background, college preferences—location, size, and major are common examples—as well as the current list of colleges they’re considering.
When It’s Posted: These posts can be shared year-round since some students are late to the party while others are getting a head start. But generally, I find the peak season to be September–November.
Where It’s Posted: Since these posts aren’t about any one individual campus, they tend to be in the general ApplyingToCollege subreddit.
Should You Respond? Maybe. If you’re searching Reddit and find yourself mentioned in one of these posts, inserting yourself into the conversation probably carries more risk than reward. Instead, focus on documenting the other campuses in that student’s consideration set. Alternatively, these questions are excellent posts in which to search for competitors. For example, if you know you have considerable overlap with another local private liberal arts college, consider looking for Reddit posts that include your competitor but don’t include you. If/when you find one, ask a student to chime in on the post, mentioning that your campus is similar to another one in the dataset and should be considered. With this post, less is more. You’re not looking to propose on the first date; you’re just trying to be considered.
Reddit has consistently been the fifth or sixth most popular website in the United States for the past year. But the growth within college-related subreddits like ApplyingToCollege has been impressive. There were 36K subscribers on r/ApplyingToCollege in March 2018. Two years later, that number is 172K. And if March’s engagement numbers are any indication, the COVID-19 pandemic will only accelerate that growth.
On Reddit, like most internet platforms, trust is everything. That may seem paradoxical when we’re talking about an anonymous internet forum, but users are drawn to communities like r/ApplyingToCollege because there’s an inherent trust that everyone is going through or has recently gone through the same life experience.
Because of that, it’s important to tread carefully. Oftentimes, the most commonly asked questions on Reddit don’t require your input, but that of a student. With that in mind, engaging in Reddit conversations requires restraint and collaboration. It’s a tall task, especially in the 2020 yield and melt season—a season unlike any we’ve experienced before. But in an environment where campus visits are prohibited, senior years are cut short, and chaos is the only constant, each Reddit mention is an opportunity to make a meaningful connection with a prospective or admitted student. You can’t afford to miss those opportunities.