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Fewer Admissions Offices Using Student Social Media to Influence Acceptance Decisions

While most admissions officers consider checking out the social media profiles of college applicants "fair game," few actually do so. At the same time, a growing number of high schoolers agree that colleges and universities have the right to view their social media activity.

In a recent set of surveys, Kaplan Test Prep queried 388 admissions leaders from top U.S. colleges and universities as well as 914 high school students who have attended a Kaplan course. Among the first group, 68 percent reported having no qualms about checking out student social media profiles on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Just 29 percent said they have actually done it. That's down from last year's 35 percent.

Among those admissions officers who called the social checkup "fair game," they explained their reasoning as follows:

  • "Employers do it all the time. Colleges can do it as well."
  • "I think if things are publicly accessible without undue intrusion, it's OK. If it's searchable, it's fair game."
  • "We don't do this, but we could. I think high school seniors make poor choices sometimes when they put stuff online."

Respondents who considered social searching an "invasion of privacy" offered these reasons:

  • "Their application should be the sole decider."
  • "We use social media for recruitment, not admissions."
  • "We only look at social media if the applicant includes or provides it."

Among the students, 70 percent would expect admissions officers to check up on their online profiles, up from 58 percent in 2014.

Just a fraction of institutions forbid admissions officers from adding an online checkup to the application consideration process. While 20 percent said their schools have official guidelines or policies on social media vetting, only a third of those — about seven institutions in every 100 — added that they're not permitted to do so.

Some of the decline in social media checks may be attributable to changing habits among young people, who have moved from Facebook to "non-archival" platforms such as Snapchat.

"You cannot visit an applicant's social media profile if you can't locate them, and as one admissions officer shared with us, 'Students are harder to find,'" said Yariv Alpher, executive director of research for Kaplan Test Prep, in a press release. "They've gotten savvier in hiding or curating their social media footprints, even as they've become very comfortable with the notion of having a digital presence to begin with."

As he noted, most admissions officers are "sticking with the traditional elements of the application," including test scores, grade point average, recommendation letters and personal essays. "For most, these traditional factors provide enough useful information to make a decision, like it has for generations of their predecessors."

Of course, any offer can be revoked if the school later uncovers evidence of malfeasance on the part of the applicant. Just ask the Harvard admittees who lost their acceptance status last year when they posted highly offensive memes on a private Facebook group for incoming freshmen. It happens more often than one might imagine, according to the Kaplan survey: Nine percent of admissions officers had revoked an offer of admission because of something they'd uncovered online.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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