Facebook Builds Self-Esteem And Confidence For First-Generation College Students
June 7, 2013

Facebook Builds Self-Esteem And Confidence For First-Generation College Students

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

Facebook connections can be a confidence booster for first-generation college applicants, helping them believe in their abilities to apply to school and excel once they have enrolled, according to a new study from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

"We are very excited by these findings, because they suggest that the kinds of interactions supported by Facebook and other social media can play a role in helping young people, especially those who are traditionally less likely to go to college, feel more confident about their ability to get into college and to succeed there," said Nicole Ellison, associate professor at the U-M School of Information.

First-generation applicants might not come into daily contact with others who support their interest in college or who can answer questions about it, Ellison added.

"Our message to high school students is that even if they are disadvantaged in terms of financial resources or parental support, social media can help them access resources they may already have in their extended social networks," said D. Yvette Wohn, an MSU doctoral student and first author of the study.

The researchers queried more than 500 high school students in lower-income Muskegon County, Michigan. Using statistical models, they analyzed how various factors -- such as demographics, family history of college attendance, parental support and Facebook connections -- correlated with the students' confidence in their ability to apply to college and their expectations of success once there.

To evaluate how well the students understood the college application process, the survey asked participants about social media use and to rate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with four statements; such as: "I know how to apply for financial aid" and "I know what I need to include in a college application."

Of the study participants, twelve percent said they had used social media to get information about how to apply to school. However, first-generation students who used social media in this way were 1.8 times more confident about their understanding of the application process, compared with students who did not use social media for this type of information.

This correlation did not hold true for students whose parents had graduated from college.

To assess how well the participants expected to do in school, the researchers had them rate on a scale from one for "strongly disagree" to five for "strongly agree," statements such as "I am confident that I will fit in socially in college" and "I am confident that I am able to successfully graduate from college."

The results showed that first-generation students reported much lower expectations, with a mean score of 2.84 compared with 4.01 for all others.

Furthermore, of the 70 percent of participants who had a Facebook friend that was either in college or had attended and could answer questions about it, first-generation students were 2.3 times more confident in their ability to succeed in school, compared with peers who had no Facebook friend with whom they could talk about college.

The study´s authors said more research is needed to determine why these correlations exist, but offered some ideas.

"We think social media may demystify the college experience, because kids are able to see how others like them experience the process," Ellison said.

"Also, sites like Facebook make it easier to ask questions of one's network."

The researchers urge guidance counselors and administrators to consider new ways to help juniors and seniors navigate their next steps through social media, and perhaps even offer application help through Facebook.

Ellison and colleagues from the University of Oxford and MSU are developing a Facebook app that will help students identify people in their networks who might be good sources of information and support about college. They plan to launch the app within the next few months.

While the current study only examined students' perceptions, the researchers are now studying how students use social media to seek information about college, as well as factors related to actual enrollment.

The study, entitled "The role of social media in shaping first-generation high school students´ college aspirations: A social capital lens," will be presented June 18 at the International Communication Association conference in London, and was recently published in the journal Computers and Education.