CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Celestina Encinia is comfortable with the idea of starting her freshman year of college later this month at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
The 18-year-old Sinton High School graduate knows where she will live and soon will know her class schedule and necessary textbooks to buy, but that’s not what puts her at ease.
It’s that she’s already connected with her peers, without meeting them.
That comfort makes the thought of college less intimidating.
Encinia found four classmates on the image-sharing site Instagram weeks before she set foot on campus for last week’s new student orientation.
“I’m here to make friends and (meet) people I will know for a long time, and just being one step closer helps,” she told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.
Across the country there are incoming college freshmen who use social media sites such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to connect with each other by sharing their thoughts, fears, questions and photos about college life.
Many students have posted images of college acceptance letters, class schedules and school IDs as ways to show the start of their college careers is official.
A&M-Corpus Christi and Texas A&M University-Kingsville use hashtags that include the number 17 to signify the incoming freshman class. The schools also have other hashtags and social media pages they use.
Some students have created unofficial social media pages as a way to find people with common interests.
Diane C. McDonald, marketing and social media executive director at Texas A&M University in College Station, said it’s natural for incoming freshmen to use social media because they’ve grown up with it.
“They are taking a very organized approach to these connections by establishing sites and hashtags for their class before the first day of classes,” she said in an email.
Joe Kuffner, a media relations professional in Portland, Ore., who maintains a blog dedicated to sharing universities’ and colleges’ approaches to social media, said some of the most excited people engaging in social media are incoming students.
Colleges are tapping into providing avenues for students to link up through Facebook groups, hashtags and video chats, said Kuffner, who is assistant media relations director for the University of Portland.
He said social media help students become fans of their school and instill what many colleges hope will be a lifelong bond with that community.
“It’s sort of a way to build the school pride and just have people feeling really good about the institution … and maybe, hopefully, share some of that with their friends,” said Kuffner, whose 4,000-student, private Catholic university uses hashtags and other social media to share its story.
Helping students feel comfortable with university life can ensure their college experience starts off well and continues during their time at school, said Gloria Gallardo, A&M-Corpus Christi’s communications and public affairs director.
The idea of linking students through social media also helps university officials introduce a school to students through a communication path students prefer, A&M-Kingsville admissions director Ramon Blakley said.
“It’s just a breath of fresh air in the university,” he said, adding that students are the driving force in making it work.
“They do with it what they want, and you just got to create it.”
He said many of Kingsville’s incoming students shared their excitement about an upcoming student orientation by posting photos on social media of the mailed postcards university officials sent as invites.
That instant connection is priceless, Blakley said.