Over the past few years, social media has been playing a larger and larger role in the college admissions process – from researching and communicating with potential colleges, right down to a student’s admissions profile. The increasing practice among admissions officers of scrutinizing applicants’ Facebook pages and Twitter feeds has stirred up some controversy, and a lot of stress among potential applicants. However, with the right approach, an informed student can not only avoid jeopardizing their chances of admissions, but actually use social media to his or her advantage.

The Facts

According to this year’s Kaplan Test Prep Survey, the percentage of admissions officers who have Googled prospective students or visited their Facebook or other social networking pages has reached an all-time high: 29% and 31%, respectively. When the survey was first conducted in 2008, only 10% reported viewing an applicant’s Facebook page. As Christine Brown, the executive director of K-12 and college prep programs at Kaplan Test Prep, said in a recent NYT article, “They Loved Your GPA: Then They Saw Your Tweets,” “it’s something that is becoming more ubiquitous and less looked down upon.”

In fact, according to Cindy Boyles Crawford, senior assistant director of admissions at the University of Georgia, many see social media as the “true view” of a student’s character. And even though an admissions office may not always look at your account, other college departments such as athletics and financial aid offices might.

Interestingly, this year’s Kaplan survey also saw an important dip – from 35% to 30% – in the number of admissions officers reporting that their searches negatively impacted an applicant’s admissions chances. This may be a function of students’ increasing use of techniques to make themselves unsearchable on Facebook by maintaining multiple accounts, or even temporarily change the names on their profiles in order to avoid detection.

The Debate

Some journalists are very concerned about the use of information gleaned from social media in the admissions process. The Times’ Natasha Singer calls the practice “chilling.” and writes:

“Ms. Brown says that most colleges don’t have formal policies about admissions officers supplementing students’ files with their own online research. If colleges find seemingly troubling material online, they may not necessarily notify the applicants involved.”

Another worry: due to the vastness of unchecked information available online, colleges may incorrectly identify the account of a potential student, mistaking him or her for someone with the same name or, worse, mistake an impostor’s account as belonging to the applicant.

Despite these misgivings, others, such as the writers at Slate, remain unconcerned, noting an important distinction between public and private information. Posts to social media platforms are public, unlike emails, phone calls, and texts, which are private. Responding to a recent incident in which an applicant to Bowdoin College tweeted nasty and profane things about her fellow prospective students during an on-campus information session, Slate argues:

“Of course Bowdoin admissions officers took notice. That’s not akin to snooping on the young woman’s private diary. It’s more like noticing that she’s shouting expletives at passersby while standing in the middle of the quad.”

Most high school students, they claim, understand this difference, as evidenced by a common practice of maintaining public and private Facebook or twitter accounts.

So, beyond refraining from tweeting offensive comments about fellow applicants, what can students do to prepare themselves, and their profiles for admissions season?

For starters, stay tuned for our next blog, “Leverage Your Social Media for College Admissions Success”! We’ll discuss tips and tricks to help you put your best social media footprint forward, and actually use it to your advantage.