Social Media & College Apps: Schools Are Watching

Like to tweet and post? Make sure the content is nothing you wouldn’t want your future college admissions officials to see. According to new data released today (April 17), more than two-thirds (68%) of college admissions offices say it’s “fair game” to check applicants’ social media accounts as part of the admissions process. The survey, conducted by Kaplan Test Prep, polled nearly 400 admissions officers from the nation’s top universities and colleges as well as more than 900 high school students.

But while a large percentage of admissions officers say they think it’s fair to check the Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts of their applicants, only about 29% report actually doing so. What’s more, the 29% rate shows a continued slide from 2015, when 40% of admissions officials told Kaplan they regularly check applicants’ social media posts. Last year, the rate was 35%.

For the admissions officers who do check social media accounts, one of the reasons to do so is that employers are often already checking anyway. “I think if things are publicly accessible without undue intrusion, it’s OK. If it’s searchable, it’s fair game,” one admissions officer told Kaplan. For those not checking social media posts, a few said that the application should be the “sole decider” of admissions, or that social media should only be checked if the applicant includes it in their application. “We use social media for recruitment, not admissions,” another said.


Among the high school students polled by Kaplan, 70% agreed social media accounts were “fair game” for admissions officials to peruse while making admissions decisions — an increase of 12 full percentage points from 2014, when the rate was 58%. According to Yariv Alpher, executive director of research for Kaplan Test Prep, the decline in admissions officers actually looking at social media accounts could be the ongoing migration of teenagers from Facebook and Twitter to 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. By the same token, colleges have largely become comfortable, in theory, using social media to help them make admissions decisions,” Alpher said in a release from Kaplan. “That said, in practice, the strong majority are sticking with the traditional elements of the application, like standardized 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.”

And just because someone has been accepted to a college doesn’t mean they’re out of the social media woods. According to the survey, nearly 90% of admissions officers polled say they have revoked admission from an accepted student because of what they later found on social media. A high-profile example of this happened last fall when about 10 students accepted to Harvard College had their admissions decisions retracted after posting highly offensive Holocaust-related memes.

Of course, admissions officers checking social media of applicants isn’t all bad. Some applicants have actually used positive or creative social media presence to bolster their applications. Either way, to all applicants out there: Take heed of your social footprint.


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