When a College Becomes a Client

Once upon a time, being young meant being irresponsible. It was a given that you’d screw up sometimes, or do something you shouldn’t…your parents would find out, you’d be grounded, and only a select group of people might know about it.

With the advent of sites like MySpace and Facebook, it’s making it easier for bad taste or questionable public information to make the rounds. That’s definitely no secret. But what does it mean for the legions of high school kids that might not have a sense for the long-term impact of posting last Saturday’s festivities on their MySpace page? And what does it mean if they do that with college admissions offices that can Google the name on every application that comes their way?

It means there’s a whole new industry flowering for getting into the best colleges: student branding.

A recent article in the New York Times described this burgeoning phenomenon among college applicants, who are seeking professionals to help them market themselves to the university of their choice. It’s almost like a public relations campaign when you read some of the recommendations kids have followed in order to spice up activities they can list on their college applications. It’s creating a very interesting debate about kids doing things like volunteer work for the wrong reasons, or jumping through hoops because it’s what a college would like, and it’s not necessarily something they’re interested in or are good at.

While part of this seems like a natural evolution given the increasing mindset and ability among the younger population to strike out on their own and understand how the world works, it also serves to show how integral technology has become. Self-branding would have little impact, say, 10 years ago…but with so much information accessible about every person of any age, it almost feels like you have to be proactive about your external image so you’re not fighting fires later. Apparently, this isn’t one of those rites of passage that won’t start until someone turns 18.

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