Do college admissions officers look at applicants' Facebook profiles?

As part our College Q & A guide, we decided to ask your questions to the the experts. Here are their answers.

Cheryl Millington

The answer is maybe or probably. A study by Kaplan test prep concluded that of the 500 best US universities, 20% Googled an applicant and 24% said they researched candidates using social media. In 2010, the study found 6% of admissions officers checked applicants’ Facebook pages, and 12% said what they found online negatively affected a student’s admissions chances. In my experience, Googling and looking at someone on Facebook is not routine. Quite frankly, my first reaction after reading the about the study was that these admission officers are obviously not very busy. However, if I had some troubling issues on an application, especially for a large scholarship, I would certainly try to get additional information via the internet on a candidate to confirm the information in the file. Just in case this is more common than we want to admit, I recommend that you clean up your digital image or make sure your privacy settings are high enough to not reveal your offensive photos or comments. Good advice not only for university admission, but for future employment or other ‘high-stake’ situations. What is not surprising is the use of social networking to recruit students; 85% use Facebook and 66% use YouTube to reach prospective students. Therefore, while initially Facebook and YouTube may be used legitimately or appropriately, it may only be a question of time before admission officers ‘stumble’ upon your inappropriate behaviour or photos. On the positive side, why not use your Facebook, Twitter and other social networking to present a positive image of yourself. Think of social media as your expanded, digital resume. For example, this is a great medium to talk about your volunteer opportunities and extra-curricular activities. So either way, it’s time to clean up your online image or use it to more positively reflect your image!

Lisa Hatch, Independent College Counselor, College Primers

While your Facebook friends may “Like” that you checked in at Dave and Busters the night before your chem final and that your relationship status is “complicated,” the person in charge of your college admissions status may not be impressed. And yet new studies indicate that admissions folks are almost as likely as your friends to be perusing your Facebook page, meaning yes – those pictures of you celebrating your win at last month’s beer pong tournament might have greater consequences than just the wrath of your mother. In a recent Kaplan study of more than 500 schools, 10 percent of admissions teams said they research prospective students through their use of social media. Perhaps even more alarming is that 30 percent of those who admitted trolling sites like Facebook and Twitter for the inside scoop on their applicants said that their impressions were negatively affected by what they found. You may not consider this type of background research ethical behavior on the part of admissions teams. And you may be right. But ethical or not, it’s a perfectly legal practice, and it’s likely to continue to grow in popularity. Keep in mind that you ultimately have the power over what can and cannot be seen on your pages. One step you can take to protect your image is to beef up the privacy controls over who can view what’s on your profiles – but why take a risk when there’s so much at stake? Perform a quick cleanse of any social media accounts you currently hold. Weed out tweets about, shots of, or allusions to any type of behavior that a college advisor might consider unbecoming. Play it safe. In the process, you’ll get a head start on cleaning up your social presence for your ultimate job search!

Ellen, Owner, Ellen Richards Admissions Consulting

Keenly aware that with each passing year the high school population is becoming more and more tech-savvy, college admissions officials are diving into the ever-growing ocean of social media. Admissions officials can now be found on Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. A recent survey conducted by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth that surveyed hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States found the following statistics: •Only 15% of College Admissions Counselors said they did not use social media for their recruitment for the 2009 admission year, down from 39% the previous year. •The number of colleges using social networking sites and or putting video on their blogs more than doubled from 2007 to 2008. •41% of colleges said they used blogs in admissions, well above the average 16% of large companies’ marketing departments that use blogs to commune with the Internet. One number that did not increase was the number of colleges using social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to research potential students: Only 17% of universities did last year compared to the 21% of universities using social media to research candidates in 2007. Nora Ganim Barnes, director of the Center for Marketing Research that conducted the study, advised that students should think twice about posting damaging material online but adds that none of the colleges said every applicant was checked, saying that more typically colleges used social media to further investigate interested in candidates for scholarships or entry into programs with limited spaces.

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