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More Admissions Officers Going Online To Research Applicants

Admissions officers were more likely to go online and research applicants for the 2014-2015 academic year than they were in the previous year. Nearly half (45 percent) reported that they performed applicant searches during the more recent admissions season compared to 36 percent during 2013-2014. Almost 7 in 10 (67 percent) hunted on Facebook and 4 in 10 searched on Twitter. What was the outcome? Most (53 percent) found something online that "positively impacted their impression" of the applicant; 40 percent found something that reflected "negatively."

Those are some of the results from an annual survey performed by an education technology company that sells a service to help students assess and manage their online presence. Cornerstone Reputation develops tools and guidance to support its clients in improving their digital reputation.

The survey report on the use of social media as an assessment tool based its results on a sample size of 133 admissions officers. Of those who listed the institution they worked for, the sampling represented 48 percent of the top 100 liberal arts colleges and 28 percent of the top 100 national universities, as defined by the U.S. News & World Report 2016 College Rankings. The researchers emphasized that the sample size wasn't sufficient to "be considered broadly applicable to all undergraduate college admissions."

The study found that nearly a quarter of respondents consider a strong online presence "an advantage" for applicants. What composes that? Favorable newspaper articles; citations for academic, athletic or other achievements; and examples of public service, among other types of content. The other types of content that gave admissions officers a negative impression included reports of criminal activity, posts that disparaged the institution or outright lies about achievements.

Most schools (81 percent) lack formal policies regarding the searching of applicants online. In spite of its growing use in the field, admissions officers don't necessarily agree on the use of Internet searching for build out their understanding of a potential student. Those who are in favor of online searches reported that the process "saves time in verifying or clarifying" details; they can also "provide meaningful insight into the character" of the applicant. Some of those who are against the practice consider it an invasion of privacy, time-consuming or "creepy."

"We're excited to lend transparency to when, how, and why admissions officers perform online searches of applicants and highlighting what can affect them, both positively and negatively," said Carolynn Crabtree, cofounder of the company in a press release. "Our hope is that students take this information and start to think critically about whether their online reputation shows their authentic and best selves."

The Cornerstone Admissions survey results are available with registration on the Cornerstone Web site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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