social media

College admissions now using social media like never before

A new survey reveals that college admissions officers' use of resources like Facebook and Google to gather more information on applicants has reached an all-time high.

According to the results of a Kaplan Test Prep survey, a higher percentage of U.S. college admissions officers visit the social media pages of applicants in order to learn more about them.

For the 2015 survey, 387 admissions officers from the nation’s top national, regional and liberal arts colleges and universities were polled by telephone between July and August 2015. It was found that 40 percent of admissions officers visit applicants’ social media profiles to research them more in depth, which represents a record high that is also quadruple the percentage of affirmative respondents from when Kaplan first explored the trend in 2008.

Amongst those 40 percent who check social media profiles, most say they “rarely” check social media, with some reporting doing so “often.”

As for the percentage of admissions officers who say they have Googled an applicant to learn more about them, that figure has remained relatively stable over the last two years at 29 percent.

“The growth of social media hasn’t made college admissions a whole new ballgame, but it’s definitely impacted the rules,” said Yariv Alpher, the executive director and head of market research at Kaplan Test Prep. “What you post online can and may be used in your favor or against you, so it’s important to think about what you share. When in doubt, the best strategy may be to keep it to yourself.”

(Next page: What factors cause admissions officers to check social media?)

Checking Social Media in Admissions for Some but Not Others

With the current college admissions process, it is clear that certain factors cause officials to look further than the traditional application elements such as GPA, standardized test scores and extracurricular. But why check the likes of Facebook or Google for some students but not others?

Admissions officers identified numerous triggers, some of which are positive, and some of which are negative:

The first main factor identified is Interest in Talents. Some admissions officers say they visit an applicant’s social media page in order to more clearly see a special talent, such as in music or writing. Often, this comes as an invitation from the applicant themselves, with 42 percent of admissions officers reporting an increase in such invitations over the last two years.

Another important trigger in checking an applicant’s online presence can be in Verification of Awards. Sometimes, citation of particularly distinguished, “out of the norm,” or noteworthy awards can trigger an admissions officer to want to verify it on their own.

Checking online for Criminal Records or Disciplinary Action can also be an important tool for admissions officers to utilize if they want to learn more details about any prior incidents of this nature.

Students applying for special Scholarships can also often come under greater scrutiny, as institutions want to be sure that the students who are chosen to receive them are the most deserving. What admissions officials find online can make a major mark on whether or not a student is chosen for a scholarship.

Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, Admissions Sabotage was also reported by respondents as a factor that leads them to check online profiles of applicants. Anecdotally, some admissions officials reported occasionally receiving anonymous tips about inappropriate behavior of prospective students. Sometimes, they’ll dig online to see if the tips have any merit.

To Help or to Hurt Prospective Students?

While 37 percent of admissions officers reported that what they discovered about an applicant online positively impacted their chances of admission, an equal percentage said that what they found negatively impacted an applicant.

Positive findings included discovery of undisclosed leadership roles or community service. On the other hand, negative findings included criminal offenses, photos of alcohol or drug consumption, racial prejudice or any other forms of inappropriate behavior.

One thing is clear: admissions officials are increasingly checking online. Thus, it is of extreme importance for applicants to mind their online presence, not just because it could hurt their chances if mismanaged, but more importantly, because a positive online presence could give their admission chances a huge boost.

A 30-second video illustrating the survey’s findings can be seen here.

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