40% of College Admissions Officers Check Applicants’ Social Media Accounts

Posted By Terri Williams on March 4, 2016 at 3:17 pm
40% of College Admissions Officers Check Applicants’ Social Media Accounts

Grades are undoubtedly an important criterion when colleges are deciding which applicants to admit. However, new research shows that students need to be as impressive online as they are in the classroom.

According to a recent Kaplan Test Prep survey, 40% of college admissions officers check an applicant’s social media pages. Also, 29% of the 400 respondents also Google applicants.

If grades are no longer enough to guarantee students a spot at their desired higher education institution, what are admissions officers looking for when they conduct online searches?

The survey reveals 5 major areas that schools want to check:

Area Explanation/Example
1 Interest in talents For example, a student is a musician, poet, or artist. Admissions officers may check social media sites to learn more about the student’s talent
2 Verification of awards If a student claims to have received a particularly noteworthy award, this claim may be checked via social media
3 Criminal records or disciplinary action If a student refers to criminal activity or disciplinary action, officers may search for additional information
4 Scholarships Students must meet certain criteria for some scholarships and officers may check to see if their lifestyle supports the assistance
5 Admissions Sabotage Admissions officers receive anonymous tips of an applicant’s inappropriate behavior and turn to social media to substantiate these claims


37% of college admissions officers have discovered positive information, such as community service or leadership roles that were not disclosed in the application packet.

37% of college admissions officers have discovered negative information, such as photos of drug or alcohol abuse, inappropriate photos or messages, and evidence of racial prejudice or criminal activity.

Advice for Students

So, should students race to sanitize or even delete their social media accounts?

Not so fast, says Lee Weiss, Kaplan Test Prep’s vice president of college admissions programs. Weiss tells GoodCall, “What we’ve learned from speaking with hundreds of college admissions officers over the years is that while what they find on applicants’ social media pages may help or hurt them around the edges, making it a real wildcard, it’s the traditional college admissions factors that overwhelmingly still play the most important role.”

And Weiss says that students should continue to focus on maintaining a strong GPA and scoring highly on college entrance exams, in addition to writing good personal essays, obtaining solid letters of recommendation, and taking a leadership role in extracurricular activities. However, Weiss concludes, “That being said, in a highly competitive college admissions environment, absolutely, pay attention to your digital footprint and put your best foot forward.”

And students need to realize that what they do on social media contributes – either positively or negatively – to their personal brand. Tara Milliken, a career advisor at the Wisconsin School of Business tells GoodCall that students should definitely be conscious of how social media affects their personal and professional brand, even in college.

“Being mindful of what content is posted or shared and how it might be perceived by various audiences, whether that includes an admissions committee or future employer, is something we recommend to all students,” says Milliken. While she says that students need to be genuine, they also need to consider the long-term impact of their online identity.

Students should also learn how to leverage social media and use it for their advantage. Milliken recommends participating in university- and/or major-related online communities. “Ask questions, follow accounts, like pages, join groups, and then take steps to be an active part of those spaces.”

And it’s never to soon to create a LinkedIn page, and update it throughout college. “A goal for all students should be for their LinkedIn page to be the first option that appears whenever they Google themselves – that’s part of nurturing their personal and professional brand,” explains Milliken.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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