Advice to College Applicants: Be Careful What You Post Online

Kaplan study highlights the risks of uncensored use of social media.

College admissions departments love social media for a number of reasons: It’s free, it’s open and it provides insight into students’ personalities. Prospective college students are finding that the results of social media research don’t always help their case for acceptance into school. While more students are conscious of the fact that colleges search for them on Google, Facebook and Twitter, 30 percent of admissions officers report finding content that weighs against students, according to a new study from Kaplan.

In a recent New York Times article by Natasha Singer, one admissions officer offered an example of how not to use social media:

At Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Me., admissions officers are still talking about the high school senior who attended a campus information session last year for prospective students. Throughout the presentation, she apparently posted disparaging comments on Twitter about her fellow attendees, repeatedly using a common expletive. Perhaps she hadn’t realized that colleges keep track of their social media mentions.

“It was incredibly unusual and foolish of her to do that,” Scott A. Meiklejohn, Bowdoin’s dean of admissions and financial aid, told me last week. The college ultimately denied the student admission, he said, because her academic record wasn’t competitive. But had her credentials been better, those indiscreet posts could have scuttled her chances.

“We would have wondered about the judgment of someone who spends their time on their mobile phone and makes such awful remarks,” Mr. Meiklejohn said.

While other colleges said they choose not to include social media and web searches in their official admissions process, most indicated that the research happens on an ad hoc basis.

Social Media and Admissions, by the Numbers

Here are a few key statistics from the study.

Of college admissions officials surveyed:

  • 29% have searched Google for an applicant
  • 31% have searched an applicant’s Facebook page
  • 30% have found content that negatively affected a student’s chances of being accepted

Of students surveyed:

  • 14% would be very concerned if an admissions official searched for them online
  • 22% have changed their name on social media to avoid being found
  • 26% have untagged photos of themselves
  • 12% have deleted social profiles

Does your college include social media as part of the admissions process? Let us know in the Comments.

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Nov 12 2013

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