Most admissions officers think it's ok to check your social media - survey
"If it's searchable, it’s fair game." Source: Nordwood Themes on Unsplash

More than two-thirds (68 percent) of college admissions officers say it is “fair game” (68 percent) to delve into an applicants’ social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as part of their decision-making process, according to a new survey of Kaplan Test Prep.

Among the reasons given were:

  • “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.”

Pro tip: Just keep your social media limited to beautiful photos and respectful content. Source: Angela Franklin on Unsplash

However, only 29 percent of admissions officers say they have actually done it. This is a significant decrease from the 40 percent high watermark in Kaplan’s 2015 survey.

Yariv Alpher, executive director of research for Kaplan Test Prep noted that some of the decline can likely be attributed to changing social media habits, as teens have migrated from Facebook to non-archival social media platforms like 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.’ 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,” said Alpher.

“By the same token, colleges have largely become comfortable, in theory, using social media to help them make admissions decisions.”

Last year, at least 10 Harvard College applicants had their offers withdrawn after The Harvard Crimson, reported that the applicants had shared racist and sexually offensive memes in a private Facebook group chat named “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens”. One member of the chat referred to the hanging of a Mexican child as “Piñata Time”, whilst others proposed child abuse as sexually arousing.

Kaplan’s survey found that nearly one in 10 (nine percent) of admissions officers say they had revoked an incoming student’s offer of admission because of what they found on social media.

Does this mean other areas of the application, such as how you performed in tests and personal statements, are now obsolete or trumped by your social media persona? That’s not the case, according to Alpher.

“That said, in practice, the strong majority are sticking with the traditional elements of the application, like standardised test scores, GPA, letters of recommendation, and personal statements, which still overwhelmingly decide an applicant’s path. For most, these traditional factors provide enough useful information to make a decision, like it has for generations of their predecessors.”

Kaplan surveyed 338 admissions officers from top national, regional and liberal arts colleges and universities, as compiled from US News & World Report.

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