College admissions staff members are increasingly looking at applicants' social media profiles and finding things that can help—or hurt—prospective students' chances, according to a new survey from Kaplan Test Prep.
The survey polled over 380 admissions officers from schools around the country. Researchers found that 40% of admissions officers visited applicants' social media pages as part of the consideration process last year, four times as many as reported doing so in 2008.
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Among those who checked social media profiles, the majority reported they did so "rarely." Social media hasn't turned admissions into "a whole new ballgame," says Yariv Alpher, the executive director and head of market research at Kaplan. "But it's definitely impacted the rules."
What they're looking for
Admissions officers say they often look at a social media page to find evidence of special skills, such as musical talent. And if a prospective student reports having received a prestigious award, an admissions officer may look it up to ensure the applicant is being completely truthful.
Some admissions officers reported searching online for evidence of disciplinary action against applicants and criminal records. And scholarship applicants' social media profiles can play a role in whether they receive funds.
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Occasionally, an admissions officer's decision to check an applicant's social media profile is prompted by an anonymous tip, a trend referred to as "admissions sabotage."
Impact on admissions decisions
Of the officers who look at social media, 37% said what they found online positively affected their decisions about applicants, while a nearly equal proportion reported that their research had a negative effect.
"When in doubt, the best strategy may be to keep it to yourself," Alpher advises (Bethke, eCampusNews, 1/25).
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