Colleges Look at Students’ Social Media

by Shawn Yaftali ‘17

Colleges and universities are very mindful of the backgrounds of students considered for acceptance, so they can build a flourishing campus community. With the widespread popularity of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the notion that admission officers may look through an applicant’s posts is not too farfetched.

Recent data compiled by a Kaplan Test Prep survey, which referenced over 350 college admission officers across the country, states that 35 percent have visited students’ social media pages during the admission process. That statistic is up 10 percent since Kaplan created this survey in 2008.

“To be clear, the large majority of admissions officers do not visit applicants’ social media sites. However, a meaningful number do, as many note that social media can provide a more authentic and holistic view of applicants beyond the polished applications,” said Kaplan’s executive director of research Yariv Alpher, in an interview with CNN.

Looking through a student’s account can help colleges learn more about a student’s creative interests, unusual or noteworthy awards, and acts of community service that one may fail to list on applications. Of the browsed profiles, Kaplan listed that around 47 percent had a positive impact on prospective students.

“One example was a student who took to Twitter to describe facilitating a panel on LGBTQ rights. It was not something the student had mentioned on her application. It shows diversity, it shows initiative, it shows leadership, and it stood out positively to an admissions officer,” noted Alpher.

However, social media does not always impress an admissions officer. In Kaplan’s survey, approximately 42 percent found posts that produced a negative impact for applicants. Hurtful, controversial, or inappropriate comments are all red flags for colleges.

“While it’s nice that colleges are trying to build the best atmosphere possible for the incoming freshman, I don’t think it’s a fair way to compare applicants. Anyone could create a fake account, which would be unfair for honest students. Also, if an admissions officer misinterprets one of your posts, you’re screwed,” said senior Ben Schipper.

Cases of false content being taken as fact does happen, but rarely. Many institutions do not research applicants online, either from receiving too many applications to review or the possibility of inconsistent treatment. But some students still change their searchable names or untag themselves from photos as a safety precaution.

“It was bad enough when we had to worry about multiple essays and test scores. Now, are we going to have to tweet in MLA format?” said junior Edwin Guevara.