Pomona College Assistant Dean of Admission Tom Campbell has been trying to stay off of social media recently. Like many, his experience of watching “The Social Dilemma” has pushed him toward a cleanse of his feeds.
But he can only escape so much; he has 4,642 followers on the @pomonaadmissions Instagram account who are waiting for his content, from student profiles to pictures of a plush Cecil the Sagehen toy and someone (who may or may not be Campbell) doing TikTok dances.
“I can neither confirm nor deny the ratio of times that I’m in [the Cecil suit]. I have worn the suit and that’s all I’ll say,” he said.
Since Campbell took over the account three years ago, its followers have ballooned from 492 to almost ten times that number, which Campbell attributes to a shift towards comedic and student-centered content.
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In the last few years, he has been very hands-on with the project to the point where he is now having students help lighten the load. He commended Chris Meng PO ’23 and Oluyemisi Bolonduro PO ’23 for their work on the account as he has delegated tasks and responsibilities.
Campbell has thought long and hard about the account, asking questions about who it serves, what content those people need and how to relay it to them.
“The goal is always to demonstrate Pomona College, from the lens of what a prospective student is most interested in learning more about. So that is: What majors do you have? What’s it like to go to a small school? What’s it like to go to the Claremont Colleges?” he said. “All these frequently asked questions that we get, that is really what the account is meant to do; it is meant to address that as well as to advertise and inform people about programs that we’re putting on that help address those concerns.”
He’s not the only Instagram-runner stepping up his social media game. Pitzer College Assistant Director of Admissions Erin Griffin, the main person responsible for the @pitzeradmission Instagram, has also found that social media is a good way to interact with prospective students.
“People do connect with us on Instagram and others for applications like ‘Hey, so I just submitted my Common App, how can you help me further?’ And of course, I never imagined that Instagram would be where people would want to connect about these official things and it’s not always the right place to do so, but for the most part, it’s nice to sort of open up those channels,” she said.
Despite this stated goal and Griffin’s relative success, Campbell’s research has shown that admissions accounts don’t always reach their target audience.
“The sheer reality though is that if you look at the ratio of our followers, a lot of them are current students … a lot of students who are prospective students aren’t as aware of the admission-specific account,” he said.
While these accounts will never stray away from focusing on prospective students, having that information has allowed Campbell to see the dual purpose these accounts can serve, especially during the pandemic.
“I’m glad that there’s people who are tuning in and appreciate appreciating it and enjoying it, even if it’s mostly current community members. It’s so nice for them to see their friends profiled and see the campus that they love, showcasing lovely images, especially when they can’t be there in person,” Campbell said.
The casual, meme-y content can be an especially effective morale boost for students and while much of their work is original, Cambell and Griffin both cited multiple influences for their posts, from memes of admissions pages to the Meme Queens of the 5cs Facebook page.
Just as Pitzer and Pomona have used Cecil as a lighthearted source of engagement, Harvey Mudd College has leaned into humor as a tool for interacting with prospective students. The Instagram account @hmcadmission features memes and gifs that provide information about school happenings, like early decision deadlines and the Future Achievers in Science and Technology program.
“Instagram and other social media platforms are a direct and informal way to interact with a college, and we’ve seen engagement increase since the global pandemic, both in terms of us sharing content, and students, families, and/or counselors connecting with us on Instagram,” Priyanka Singh, Scripps College’s assistant director of admissions, said in an email statement.
Ironically, the admission social media feeds of Scripps and Claremont McKenna College — who did not respond to requests to be interviewed — are more formal, featuring clean aesthetics and high quality images of campus and its surrounding landscape.
No matter how the admissions accounts have grown, they all share the common goal of effectively relaying information to prospective students. Now that Campbell, Griffin and the other 5C accounts have gained relatively captive audiences, the question has become: what’s next?
Griffin highlighted increasing student involvement in the content going forward.
“With TikTok specifically it’s been so funny. I’m not very involved but obviously we’ve been watching all of them. Our students definitely were huge in that this summer. Two of our students, one of them a current junior and one who just graduated, were the ones making many of them this summer, or brainstorming,” Griffin said.
Campbell shared that same sentiment.
“I’m really trying to shift more of that autonomy into student hands because at the end of the day, people are going to connect with the students better than me … I think it’s gratifying to see students coming up with the ideas themselves and executing them themselves,” he said.
Despite the changes he still hopes to implement, Campbell feels proud of the progress the @pomonaadmissions account has made in the past couple of years.
“I think my biggest point of pride is just having our students promote an amazing location in a beautiful part of the world. We have the sunshine, we have the palm trees as do all the Claremont Colleges, but at the end of the day, I think historically what this pandemic has taught us is that it’s the people –– and as cliché as it sounds –– it’s the people that make Pomona special,” he said.
The reliance on student creativity and input has coincided with the rise of TikTok as another social media platform that young people gravitate toward. Griffin feels excited to see where a journey on a new platform will take her team, as she continues to grow the Instagram community.
“I love having a platform that just creates that really casual, fun, supportive and informative space for all of those different contingents to come together,” she said.
Making good on his promise of encouraging student input, Campbell said, “I just hope that whoever ends up following us, whether it’s prospective students or current 5C students, keep enjoying the content and feel free to send ideas if people really want things to be featured.”