According to a survey from Kaplan Test Prep published at the end of last year, college admissions officers aren’t visiting applicants’ social media profiles as much as they used to. The reason may surprise you.

In 2015, 40 percent of surveyed college admissions officers said they went to potential students’ social media profiles to learn more about them. But now, only 25 percent say they seek out applicants’ social media. A possible reason? Admissions officers can’t find the accounts.

Of the admissions officers who say they have looked into social media in applications, 52 percent say students have become savvier about hiding their social media presence over the past few years, or students have moved away from social communities where what they post is easy to find by people they don’t know.

Changing attitudes about social media

According to a 2018 report by research firm Piper Jaffray, about 85 percent of teens say they use both Instagram and Snapchat–two platforms that make it easy to share posts with specific people, along with making it easier to keep user profiles and posts hard to find, if desired. This compares to just 36 percent of teens who use Facebook once per month, a decrease from 60 percent three years ago.

Another factor may be a shift in attitudes about checking social media. While 57 percent say it’s “fair game” for them to visit applicants’ social media profiles like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to help them decide who gets in, it represents a significant drop from the 68 percent who held this view in Kaplan’s 2017 survey.

Notably, students have been generally more accepting of this practice than admissions officers–in a separate Kaplan survey completed earlier this year, 70 percent said they believe it’s “fair game” for admissions officers to check social media.

“Unless it’s a matter of checking on something that might be a hate crime or endangering other people, then it becomes a safety issue, but otherwise it’s a privacy issue,” one surveyed admissions officer stated.

Yariv Alpher, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of research, has been tracking this issue for a number of years and says many factors could explain the change of attitude and practice in admissions officers.

“We’re seeing the result of combining trends here. On the one hand, students are savvier. They are more careful with what they post and are increasingly using more private social networks. In some cases they also create fake accounts that they only share with friends, but which are not easily attributed to them,” Alpher says.

“On the other hand, admissions officers are increasingly conscious of the need to maintain students’ privacy, and are more inclined to use social media in a more targeted way. Regardless, social media remains an admissions factor for a significant number of colleges, so students should be mindful of what they share.”

Social media in applications

But just because admissions officers aren’t checking students’ social media as often doesn’t mean students shouldn’t continue to use common sense.

Alpher advises students to be thoughtful about what they post, and to avoid things such as making a snap decision and posting an opinion others may find offensive or hurtful.

He also cautions about spending weeks on perfecting a video library on YouTube in the hopes that admissions officers will organically come across it and suggests applicants call it out to them instead.

“Even as technology has allowed college admissions officers to discover more information about their prospective students, it seems they are sticking with the traditional elements of the application to help them make enrollment decisions, like standardized test scores, GPA, letters of recommendation, and personal statements. These factors overwhelmingly decide applicants’ paths,” he says. “Social media remains a wildcard, though from our research, a somewhat diminishing one. We’ll be tracking to see if this trend continues or reverses.”

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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