College admissions officers still believe it’s acceptable practice to check applicants’ social media, but the number who actually do so has declined, due in part to teenagers’ increased use of social media platforms that do not archive content.
Sixty-eight percent of colleges and universities in Kaplan Test Prep’s annual college admissions officer survey say applicant’s social media accounts are “fair game” during the admissions process. They report checking platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to get better ideas of who applicants really are and if they’re likely to be a good fit.
Kaplan conducted a separate survey of 900 high school students reveals that 70 percent of students agree that it’s fair for admissions officers to check out social activity.
While 40 percent of admissions officers in Kaplan’s 2015 college admissions survey said they’ve actually checked applicants’ social media, 35 percent did so last year, and 29 percent report doing so in this year’s survey.
Nine percent of admissions officers say they have revoked an incoming student’s admission based on what they found on social media. Last year, Harvard University revoked acceptances for a handful of students after offensive memes were posted in a private Facebook group for incoming freshmen.
Admissions officers who say social media is fair game say a student’s social media accounts are OK to include in admissions considerations if the accounts are publicly accessible without “undue intrusion.”
Those who view it as an invasion of privacy say the application should be the sole decider, and that they only check social media if the student includes it with their application.
“You cannot visit an applicant’s social media profile if you can’t locate them, and as one admissions officer shared with us, ‘Students are harder to find.’ They’ve gotten savvier in hiding or curating their social media footprints, even as they’ve become very comfortable with the notion of having a digital presence to begin with. By the same token, colleges have largely become comfortable, in theory, using social media to help them make admissions decisions,” says Yariv Alpher, executive director of research for Kaplan Test Prep. “That said, in practice, the strong majority are sticking with the traditional elements of the application, like standardized test scores, GPA, letters of recommendation, and personal statements, which still overwhelmingly decide an applicant’s path. For most, these traditional factors provide enough useful information to make a decision, like it has for generations of their predecessors.”
Social platforms are such a big part of students’ lives that deleting accounts isn’t always a reasonable request. But there are things students can do to improve their online presence.
Some institutions have partnered with ZeeMee, a college admissions-focused app that lets students engage and connect with schools via a social community. Applicants can engage with current students and admissions counselors at their chosen schools to find out if the schools might be a good fit, and they can establish a positive social media presence by creating a profile with information about their character, goals, and personality. More than 200 colleges use ZeeMee, and they’ve reported a 12.5 percent average increase in student enrollment.
“We’ve found that the traditional engagement strategy centered around emails and phone calls really isn’t resonating with this generation,” says Shannon Hutchison Caraveo, director of undergraduate admissions at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. The university turned to ZeeMee based on its different engagement strategy, mobile nature, and how it revolved around unique video content.
“We’ve had a lot of success with prospective students. Within just a couple of weeks of launching our ZeeMee community, we had 1,300 prospective students join us and jump into life at Point Loma,” Caraveo says. “We’re excited because these students are involved in our community, which means we can see their interest and engagement with Point Loma as it happens. We’re really hopeful that, as our deadline approaches, this information will allow us to be a lot more targeted and predictive.”
Social media coaching firms help high school and college students improve their social media presence, and even help students use social media to make a positive and professional impression on potential colleges and employers. Some college counseling firms also provide social media coaching as part of their services.
With a little common sense, students can clean up any questionable social media content:
- Start by Googling names (including nicknames) to view results. Look into ways to untag students from photos or posts that might reflect negatively on them.
- Ensure usernames or display names aren’t too crazy and are not offensive or suggestive of unflattering behavior.
- Have a strong understanding of privacy settings, including who can tag students in posts with or without approval and who can see profiles or personal information (e.g., just friends, friends of friends, etc.).
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