Updated: Mar 3, 2021
By BRENNAN BARNARD For the Concord Monitor
Published: 2/22/2021 5:18:23 PM
Question: I have heard that college admission officers check social media when they review applicants. Is this true?
Answer: Before I answer this, I have a question for you. If you learned that admission officers did check the social media of all applicants, would your posts or behavior change? If you answered “yes,” it might be time to reconsider how you approach your online presence. The truth is, regardless of college admission, your “digital footprint” can be deep and lasting, so be careful how and where you step.
Okay, now to answer you. For over a decade, the educational services company Kaplan has been conducting an annual survey of admission officers to track trends in policies and practices. Since 2008 they have been exploring the role of social media in application review, and not surprisingly, it has been growing every year. Just as the use of various social media platforms (Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) continues to expand among young people, the pandemic has increased their use by admission offices in recruiting applicants.
This means that admission professionals are spending more time in this space trying to connect with students and encourage them to apply. While they may not be actively checking your social media profiles – though some are – you cannot control what they stumble upon. It could be that in your application, you mention an award you earned, a club you are part of, or an organization where you volunteer, and they are not familiar with it. A quick Google search for your name and that award, club, or organization might just surface something you would rather they not see and cannot unsee.
Kaplan’s survey found that 65 percent of admission officers think that it’s “fair game” for reviewers to visit applicants’ social media pages, and 36 percent of the admission officers who responded do visit applicants’ social media profiles. Of that 36 percent, 17 percent do it “often.”
You may be thinking, “but my profile is private and only my friends can see what I post,” or “I doubt the colleges I am applying to are part of that 17 percent.”
Think again. Do you want to risk potentially negating all the hard work you have invested throughout high school with one thoughtless post or comment? The reality is that many college admission officers are right out of college, often in their early 20s. Guess where a lot of them spend their time, especially in a pandemic? You’ve got it: social media.
This caution is not limited to pre-application behavior. Every year, there are high-profile cases of newly admitted students sharing a meme, posting a picture, or making a statement online that is inappropriate, leading to their offer of admission being revoked. Don’t be that student.
Angel Pérez, CEO of The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), points out other consequences, saying, “I know employers who look at the social media feeds of potential interns and employees. There are scholarship providers who look at them too.” He adds, “contrary to popular belief, taking down a post does not mean it disappears. Students should be judicious about what they share on social media. It could limit their opportunities in the future.”
So, before you snap, post, share, or comment, run it by the “grandparent gauge.” Would you want your grandmother to read or see what you are putting online? If not, then think twice. Or consider this, if the teachers and counselor writing your college recommendations had access to your social media posts, would it leave them with a less favorable impression of you? Be smart about your digital footprint and how you interact online. Not just for college admission, but because it is the right thing to do. Colleges want to enroll people of character, and we also need communities – online and in-person – that cultivate kindness and citizenship.
Do you have a question about college admission, the impact of the pandemic, and applications? Submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Brennan Barnard is the Director of College Counseling and Outreach at The Derryfield School and the College Admission Program Advisor at The Making Caring Common project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is co-author of the book, “The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together.”