Survey: Admissions officers really do look at social media

WASHINGTON — Your social media footprint could help or hinder your chances of being accepted to certain colleges and universities, according to Kaplan Test Prep’s most recent survey.

Of the nearly 400 college admissions officers surveyed in the United States, 40 percent said they visit applicants’ social media pages to learn more about them.

That’s an all-time high and quadruple the percentage who did so in 2008, when Kaplan first explored the issue.

“The growth of social media hasn’t made college admissions a whole new ballgame, but it’s definitely impacted the rules,” Yariv Alpher, executive director and head of market research for Kaplan Test Prep, said in a news release. “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.”

Of those who look at applicants’ social media accounts, 89 percent of admissions officers say they rarely do so. Just 11 percent said they do so often. Twenty-nine percent of admissions officers say they’ve Googled applicants’ names. That number has been relatively stable the past two years.

According to Kaplan’s research, admissions officers look at social media for these reasons:

  • Some admissions officer say they will visit an applicant’s social media page — often by the applicant’s own invitation — if the applicant mentions a special talent, such as being a musician, artist, poet, writer or model.
  • Citation of particularly distinguished or noteworthy awards can trigger an admissions officer’s online search for independent verification.
  • Some admissions officers say that if an applicant mentions they have a criminal background or a record of disciplinary action, they will do some online digging to get more details.
  • Students applying for special scholarships may come under greater scrutiny: Schools want to ensure those receiving the scholarships are fully deserving, so extra due diligence can come in the form of online checking.
  • Anecdotally, admissions officers say they occasionally get anonymous tips about prospective students pointing them toward inappropriate behavior. They’ll sometimes dig online to see if it has merit.

Kaplan’s survey also found that social media can cut both ways. Thirty-seven percent of admissions officers say that what they’ve found about an applicant helped their application.

An equal percentage say that what they found hurt an applicant’s admissions chances.

Positive findings included discovery of undisclosed leadership roles or community service, while negative findings included criminal offenses, photos of drug or alcohol use, racial prejudice or inappropriate behavior.

Kaplan surveyed 387 admissions officers from that nation’s top national, region and liberal arts colleges and universities by phone between July and August 2015.

Watch a video of the findings below.

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