Few colleges check applicants’ social media posts

One 18-year-old from Lowell High in San Francisco wouldn’t even let her name be published in this story lest one of the colleges she’s applying to see she’s discussing this subject.

“Getting into college is very competitive – it’s like running for president,” she said. “You have to cover up and clean up your reputation and background. I have friends who go out on the weekends and put up a foggy picture (online) so it’s obvious they’re under the influence. I feel like (they) are either unaware that colleges do look them up, or they’re too confident.”

At Pomona, another of the Claremont Colleges, looking up students is not a formal part of the admissions process.

Yet, “I wouldn’t say we would never do it,” said Will Torres, assistant dean of admissions. “I’m sure some folks do. Young people are wise to be vigilant about their online presence.”

29% look online

Of the 422 admissions officers surveyed by Kaplan this year, 122 – or 29 percent – said they have conducted an online search of an applicant. Slightly more, 131, said they have visited an applicant’s social networking page. Of those, 39 found something that negatively impacted the application.

The survey has a 4 percent margin of error, but it’s enough to encourage Alan Katzman of New York. He recently opened a company called Social Assurity to help students “uncover questionable content and clean that up,” he said.

An attorney and former investigations executive, Katzman started the service in part because he saw the postings of his own college-age kids – “the camera starts flying when alcohol is involved” – and because he disagreed with the common wisdom on the subject.

“Everyone was saying to make sure you lock down your social media,” he said. “But locking down is really bad advice – if I’m looking and there’s nothing to find, I’m going to think the person has something to hide.”

Other methods to check

So Katzman also helps students enhance their Web presence – like making sure that kids who play Prokofiev have a YouTube video – “so those attributes will be represented online,” he said.

Last year, California passed a law prohibiting colleges from requiring students to provide social media information. Lawmakers were motivated by colleges in other states, including two Kentucky universities where student athletes have to let officials monitor them online.