More College Admissions Officers Say They Check Applicants' Social Media Activity

Social Media Signs

November 15, 2013

Potential employers conducting Google and social media searches on a candidate is nothing new. In fact, most people now expect that it will happen, but what about college admissions officers looking up an applicant's Facebook? According to a recent survey, that practice is also on the rise.

A press release reported that the survey, conducted by Kaplan Test Prep, polled 381 admissions officers from top national, regional and liberal arts colleges and universities across the U.S. and found that 31 percent had visited an applicant's Facebook or other social networking site. Twenty-nine percent said they had Googled an applicant. Those figures are up significantly from 2008, when Kaplan first started tracking such data. In 2008, barely 10 percent of college admissions officers said they had checked an applicant's Facebook.

What is interesting, however, is that a separate Kaplan survey showed that most college-bound high school students are not worried about their social media and digital footprints. The press release noted that a survey of 422 students who took the SAT or ACT between December 2012 and April 2013 revealed that 77 percent said they would not be concerned if an admissions officer Googled them. According to The New York Times, they should be -- 30 percent of the admissions officers who were polled also said they had found information about an applicant online that negatively affected his or her prospects.

The practice has raised concerns among some experts. Bradley S. Shear, a lawyer who specializes in social media law, told The New York Times that colleges do not know for a fact that the person they are searching online is actually the applicant they are reviewing -- it could be someone else with the same name or even a fake account -- which could potentially lead to unfair treatment.

The New York Times conducted its own investigation to find out more and interviewed admissions officials at 10 schools. Responses were varied. All officials told The New York Times that it is not customary to use Google or social media searches to supplement someone's college application. Most said that between all the essays, letters of recommendation and portfolios, they did not have time to conduct their own research online.

Still, some officials said they looked up online information on an ad hoc basis. For example, if a prospective student directed the admissions office to a relevant blog or video. Additionally, some said they would occasionally look up an obscure award or event that was mentioned by the applicant for more information or clarification.

Some officials did, however, admit that they had denied an applicant admission or revoked acceptances due to questionable online activity. Last year, for example, an undergraduate student at Pitzer College had friended a prospective student on Facebook. The prospective student posted offensive comments about one of his high school teachers, and the Pitzer College student notified the admissions office. In the end, the applicant was not admitted.

"We thought, this is not the kind of person we want in our community," explained Angel B. Perez, Pitzer's dean of admission and financial aid, to The New York Times.

According to a Bloomberg opinion piece, the practice might be more of an attempt to preserve a school's reputation or avoid negative press.

"If a student commits an assault and there was ample indication on social media or elsewhere of a violent streak before the student was accepted, people will ask the dean of admissions, 'How did you miss this?'" wrote Mark Bauerlein in Bloomberg.

Whatever the reason might be and despite various concerns, college-bound students should be aware that the practice is indeed growing.

"It's something that is becoming more ubiquitous and less looked down upon," Christine Brown, executive director of K-12 and college prep programs at Kaplan Test Prep, told The New York Times.

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


"Kaplan Test Prep Survey: More College Admissions Officers Checking Applicants' Digital Trails, But Most Students Unconcerned," press.kaptest.com, October 31, 2013, http://press.kaptest.com/press-releases/kaplan-test-prep-survey-more-college-admissions-officers-checking-applicants-digital-trails-but-most-students-unconcerned

"They Loved Your G.P.A. Then They Saw Your Tweets," nytimes.com, November 9, 2013, Natasha Singer, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/business/they-loved-your-gpa-then-they-saw-your-tweets.html

"Your Dream College Can See Twitter, Too," bloomberg.com, November 8, 2013, Mark Bauerlein, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-08/your-dream-college-can-see-facebook-too.html

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