Guidance counselors often warn their students that college admissions officers may be taking a peek at their social media accounts. And a new survey confirms their cautions.
More than a third of the nearly 300 college admissions officers surveyed by the Kaplan Test Prep company say they have visited sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to get more information about a prospective student. That’s up from 25 percent last year, but down a bit since 2015, when 40 percent of admissions officers said they used social media to inform admissions decisions.
However, only 1 in 5 admissions officers say they look at social media profiles “very often” or “somewhat often.” About 80 percent say they do it “somewhat rarely” or “very rarely.”
And what admissions officers find is just as likely to help a student as to hurt them. In fact, 37.9 percent of admissions officers say they found something in an applicants’ social media profile that helped the prospective student’s cause, compared to 32.3 percent who say they found something that hurt an applicant.
So what helps? Volunteer work. Awards. Performances. And what hurts? Unsurprisingly, photos or evidence of a student underage drinking, partying, or sharing offensive thoughts can hinder an applicant’s chances.
Case in point: In 2017, Harvard University withdrew admissions offers to at least 10 students who traded sexually and racially charged memes in a private Facebook group. The name of the group: “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens,” according to the student paper, the Harvard Crimson. The memes and messages traded by students in the group included ones that made fun of sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, the Crimson said.
Similarly, Harvard also yanked an admissions offer for Kyle Kashuv, a conservative activist and survivor of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., when it became clear that he had sent racist Tweets.
Interestingly, the majority of students—70 percent—think it’s OK for college admissions officers to check them out on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. But only 59 percent of admissions personnel say that those sites are fair game, according to the survey. By contrast, 41 percent of admissions officers say that it’s “an invasion of privacy that shouldn’t be done.”
So should students spend hours tweaking their social media presence so that they look like the ideal applicant? No, SAT and ACT scores, grades, extracurriculars and essays still matter far more, Kaplan says in a video.
“We continue to believe that applicants’ social media content remains a wild card in the admissions process,” said Sam Pritchard, director of college prep programs at Kaplan Test Prep, in a statement. “Our consistent advice to teens is to remain careful and strategic about what they decide to share. In 25 years, you’ll definitely remember where you graduated college from, but you’ll unlikely remember how many people liked that photo of what you did over winter break.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.