Do colleges look at social media profiles during the admissions process?

I just started to apply to college and am trying to figure out how I should manage my social media accounts.

Answers

Amanda Morris, College Professor, Writer, Advisor, Writing Coach

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Hi there and congratulations on starting your applications to college! My short answer to your question is yes. But let me explain. Just as employers now regularly peruse both candidates' and existing employees' social media activity, it is a safe bet that college admissions officers may also do the same. Do they all? Probably not. Do you really want to take the chance that someone with the power to make that decision about your readiness for college will see an unsavory picture of last year's pool party?

Here's a good rule to follow when it comes to social media and high stakes decision makers in your life: If you would be proud to show your future boss or your grandmother your entire social media presence, then you are safe. That includes Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, Youtube, Vimeo, and all other platforms.

Present as a professional version of yourself in images, video, and verbal statements - and remember, once you post it to the interwebs, it lives there forever. Let that be your guide and you should be able to make good decisions about how you are presenting yourself to anyone who starts investigating. Another option is to hide your true identity - I've seen students reverse their first and last names or create pseudonyms as a way to prevent unwanted eyes from seeing what they say and do online.

A side note: Although some other experts may consider this advice "nonsense," I can promise you that my 30 years of business experience, ten years of teaching at the college level, and the dozens of professionals I work with when I organize an annual Business Writing Roundtable for students at my university suggests that my advice is anything but nonsense. Some of the pros give my students this very same advice. However, LinkedIn is an excellent place to present a more professional demeanor online and once you establish that presence, it can absolutely benefit you.

Best of luck with those applications!

Robyn Scott, Educational Consultant, TutorNerds LLC

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Hi. Yes, it is quite possible. In order to manage your social media profile I suggest the following:

Facebook: 1- Go through all of your FB photos and delete any that may portray you in a less than stellar light, 2- remember that mobile uploads are always pubic and the comments people post on your profile pic are always public, 3- Adjust your privacy settings so that friends need permission to tag you on your timeline (go under timeline review), 4- Stay away from any negative topics or issues that could be considered venting (like complaining about a school subject or teacher).

Instagram: This is an all-mobile platform which makes it harder not to quickly click and post photos (use a lot of self control here while applying to colleges).

Twitter: Lots of people get into trouble with Twitter (think celebrities). Give yourself a 'wait 7 minutes rule' when tweeting. If the topic or statement still seems okay (neutral/positive) after 7 minutes, then it's probably okay (assuming it's not destructive or hateful toward another person). If, after 7 minutes, the statement seems not so great, don't tweet it.

Lots of teens and adults have gotten into trouble with social media and it's something new to the recent/emerging generations. When in doubt, always play it safe and don't post.

Kazuya Shiba, Bodybuilder, Personal Trainer, Gamer

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 Regardless of whether colleges look at your social media accounts, your future employers will, and so you should always be mindful and careful about what you post AND what others post on your social media accounts.  
 Social media is like a tattoo that is always visible no matter what you wear and one that is extremely hard to erase because people can either download content or screenshot things.  This can either work to your advantage or against you so be a bit careful about it.
Parke Muth, Over 30 years in education and admission

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This topic gets a fair amount of coverage from the media and like most stories in the media these days the horror stories of kids losing out because of social media posts in more hype than reality

I will add a couple of links and quotes and then talk more specifically about my personal experience with the issue and then raise some points that might be pertinent to your question.

"Of 381 college admissions officers who answered a Kaplan telephone questionnaire this year, 31 percent said they had visited an applicant’s Facebook or other personal social media page to learn more about them — a five-percentage-point increase from last year. More crucially for those trying to get into college, 30 percent of the admissions officers said they had discovered information online that had negatively affected an applicant’s prospects." NY Times

If nearly a third of admission readers check social media, then students need to be careful about what they post. I would say that this caveat might be even more important for those seeking internships or jobs.

What The Times article leaves out, however, is the drop in the negatives as far as social media affects admission officers: [Kaplin Stats] ](http://press.kaptest.com/press-releases/kaplan-test-prep-survey-more-college-admissions-officers-checking-applicants-digital-trails-but-most-students-unconcerned)

Despite the growth in online checking, however, there’s been a dip — to 30% this year from 35% in Kaplan’s 2012 survey — in the number of admissions officers reporting that they’re finding something that negatively impacted an applicant’s admissions chances. And notably, in a separate survey of college-bound students**, more than three-quarters said they would not be concerned if an admissions officer Googled them. In response to the question, “If a college admissions officers were to do an online search of you right now, how concerned would you be with what they found negatively impacting your chances of getting in?” 50% said they would be “Not at all concerned” while 27% said “Not too concerned.” Only 14% of students said they would be “Very concerned” while the remainder said they would be “Somewhat concerned.”

While more admission people report looking at social media, more students seem to have done enough to make sure that their on-line presence will not hurt them for admission. What neither article does in any systematic way is to give a list of things that students have done that negatively impacted their chances of admission. The Times article points out a student tweeting terrible things about a school she applied to, and this would of course hurt anyone’s chances.

But what are the things that might hurt besides trashing a particular school? There are a few things I can think of that would be certain to sink a student: racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic comments or postings would doom anyone. But I doubt this happens much, in part because if the student did post such things there would likely already be consequences at his or her secondary school. These kinds of things would inflame at least some students at any school and it usually does not take long before someone talks about it to the school.

I also think that students have heard from the media and school officials to make sure not to put anything that would hurt them in life or in the admission process. But kids still do dumb things, and so do the rest of us too.

Let’s assume that almost all students now don’t post things that will doom them out of hand. Are there other things that might hurt them? My answer is yes, but I base this on hearsay rather than hard evidence.

Now let’s assume a student has just celebrated an 18th birthday. He or she posts a photo showing the brand new top of the line BMW that they received from mom and dad. On the face of it, this might not seem like a negative but for some in the world of admission and the world at large it would be. Most admission people are not in the 1% of the economic spread. Not by a long shot. Seeing students who jet off to Paris for the weekend, or get presents that most could never afford, and who generally come across as spoiled may well, at some level and to some extent, hurt their chances of winning over an admission officer. There are at least some in the world of admission who think rich kids have too many advantages over the rest of the population and anything that comes across as reveling in wealth might be a negative, either consciously or not.

The other example I will bring up is even more sensitive and likely to raise some comments (I hope this is the case actually). A long while ago, when paper applications were still the norm and things were far different than today, applications often came with a little space that said: photo (not required). The thought was that seeing the face, typically a yearbook picture, helped to humanize the applicant. You could see who was submitting an application. Then, however, people said that photos should not be a part of the application process as they could bias a reader. Now on the Common Application (and virtually all other applications), a photo is verboten.

Social media now undercuts the effort to take looks out of the picture (pun intended). Facebook or even Google search comes up with images pretty quickly. Let’s assume that an admission reader pulls up a Facebook page of a young woman whose profile photo shows her at a debutante ball. And it shows that there are hundreds or even thousands of photos of herself posted. This might lead some readers to think the young woman is too preoccupied with prestige, class, looks and herself. (For some it might unconsciously bias them to give her a plus as studies show that how someone looks alters how we perceive them.) Will this show up on a survey of admission readers? Probably not, but it is something worth considering.

On the other hand, it may be that a social media page might help a student. A Quoran in secondary school recently posted photos of her efforts to collect books and donate them to under-privileged students in a low-income school district. If I saw this while reading an application I would count it as a plus.

In terms of personal experience, I don’t have many to share. A while back I asked some current undergraduates to create a student group, The Mainland Student Network. Its mission was to interview students from China and also to examine the activities and things they said they did outside of the classroom. In one case a student said on renren that he/she had written a book and posted the book title there. The MSN student did some detective work and found out the book had been written by someone else.

I mention China in particular as it brings up another issue. Do some schools really want to know that much about students? The ones awash in applications certainly do, as choosing among an exceptional group of students is difficult. (It is also incredibly time consuming.) I can’t image many readers at schools that have huge applicant pools spending much effort investigating social media. There just isn’t time to get through all the materials already submitted by the applicants. Most students who send in extra stuff to supplement the application will be sad to know it rarely gets looked over at a number of schools.

Most schools in the US, however, are not all that selective. The selective schools get the most press, but the number of them is small. What many schools are looking for are reasonably good students, and reasonably good students who can pay. Many schools in the US import huge numbers of students from China. They have great transcripts, high scores, strong recommendations and essays. The problem is a lot of this is fabricated by paid "agents". They get paid a lot to write essays, and recs, alter transcripts etc. Many schools know this but often don’t put resources into checking these credentials. This leads me to believe that most schools, which need students, will not often deny a student based on a somewhat sketchy social media post or photo. If a student is reasonably good by the numbers is it worth cutting them out if they are holding what looks like an alcoholic beverage in a photo? I doubt it in most cases.

I mention the alcohol photo as it too raises issues. A person looking like they are having a great time at a party might be holding a to go cup but it would be inviting a lawsuit to turn that student down. Even if they are holding a bottle of hard liquor that does not prove they actually consumed it. Would schools want to go to court over this? I doubt this too.

I think most of what is put up about social media and schools looking things over falls into the category of providing a useful service. Telling students to take care what they post is useful. Telling anyone the same is useful too, but I don’t think it affects as many students as the surveys suggest.

The last thing I will mention is that there are now businesses that offer students a chance to submit their social media profile to them so they can go through and edit out anything that might look bad. I have no idea how any might use this but I am sure there is at least some interest in this. It means that that is yet one more way that parents and students are paying for others to help them in the admission process.

M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher

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At the risk of sounding redundant on this topic, I would say that yes, absolutely, college admissions officers do look at your social media profiles during the admissions process. I taught a lesson to some of my students last year along with our school librarian, and we watched several videos that you can look up on YouTube or by googling the subject, in which they actually interview certain admissions officers from top universities and ask them what they look for. They also show statistical data related to how many schools do this, and the numbers were staggeringly high. I would say that the chances of most schools not looking at Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. are very low. Like many other experts have said here, make sure there is nothing "incriminating" on your page, especially photos, but also posts that could possibly be viewed as cruel, mean, or could be interpreted as teasing or cyberbullying, however playful or menial you might think it is. I would second the notions that everything on your page should be something that your parents or grandparents would approve of, and you also want to be mindful and aware of what OTHERS are posting on your site. Constant monitoring is a must here, because even if you think your site is clean, there can be others who might come and muck it up, unbeknownst to you. So I'd say to make sure you check these sites periodically to make sure all posts are good. Also, it is always good to showcase the good activities you do in your community and in other places, such as volunteer work, working at a homeless shelter, or giving to charity, even being a leader of a club or sports team, etc. These positive attributes are also what your admissions officers are looking at, and they might find some things on your social media profiles that did not appear on the college application or essay. Pictures of you at charity events, or helping out in the community, etc. can be very useful additions as well.

Alan Katzman, CEO of Social Assurity, Social Media Advisors

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You are asking a very important and insightful question.

You and other rising high school seniors have been overly warned about how social media can only harm your chances of getting accepted to college. The answer to your question is not about only posting what your Grandmother would approve (how boring is that?) nor is it about worrying so much that you hide your online activities behind an alias or shut down your online presence altogether. This advice is pure nonsense.

If and when colleges search for your digital footprint, they are not looking to find reasons to reject you. They are looking to learn more about you so give them something to see. When you view your social media posts as an extension of your college application, you can establish your credibility by showcasing your intelligence, leadership, community service and extracurriculars in powerful and compelling ways.

Social media is no longer limited to peer-to-peer communications. It has become your virtual resume. Be transparent and authentic while posting about your interests and accomplishments. As a start, we strongly encourage you to establish a presence on LinkedIn. LinkedIn for high school students isn't above what you've done, it's all about what you aspire to be. List your activities, organizations, extracurriculars and challenge courses. Get recommendations from your teachers. Write a summary about your aspirations and interests. Engage with college communities via LinkedIn's University Pages. Publish blogs using LinkedIn's publishing platform. Not only will you impress members of your targeted college communities, but you will also be building skills necessary for finding a great job after you graduate.

Beyond the obvious choice of LinkedIn, we believe Twitter is another essential tool for personal branding and networking. Follow people on Twitter who are thought leaders in your areas of academic or professional interest. You can also follow college communities from admissions, to sports, to specific schools and organizations. Engagement with leaders and groups on Twitter is easier than you think and the value of this engagement is immeasurable.

In a competitive world, where many qualified people are competing for one spot, an online presence reflecting the intellectual interests, activities, accomplishments and character of an individual can become a positive asset that sets you apart from others.

Anonymous, Helpful tutor/teacher

With the high volume of students that apply to colleges each year, it is highly unlikely that any college admissions employee would take the time to look up a potential student's social media. Unless I was very carefully choosing students for an exclusive, selective program. I would not consider taking the time to Google search and stalk students online. For the general student application pool, I would be very surprised if I found out that admissions officers took the time to search though social media profiles of thousands of students.

That being said, however, nothing is impossible. In the off-chance that someone with the power to control your admission decides to check our your Facebook page, you would not want to give him or her any reason to reject you. Don't have any offensive or embarrassing profile pictures up. I would recommend setting your Facebook page to "private". You may not have anything to hide, but less an admissions officer knows about your personal life, the better.

Pamela Petrease Felder, Admissions and Social Media

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Many college admissions offices now use social media to connect with prospective students. During the practice of engaging students this way, it's very possible for a college admissions staff member to see your social media profile.

Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, and Author

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No one really knows what colleges look at and how often they do. If they reviewed every applicant's social media profiles, certainly their resources would be stretched incredibly thin. So theoretically - yes - they could potentially look at all your profiles and posts. From a practical point of view, they probably will not.

However, if you happen to be the one applicant whose social media profiles are reviewed and considered inappropriate or offensive you will rue the day you did not act proactively. The short answer is: when in doubt - delete! Even if your FB page is not reviewed by a college, someone else might take note of a post or two on your page and anonymously alert a prospective a school to your profile. So you are at risk. Just as important, you are embarking on the beginning of adulthood. College Internships and even job interviews are soon to follow. It just makes sense to now consider this outside audience and post accordingly and respectfully. I know of a private school on the east coast that offers their students the following admonition: if you would not be comfortable with what you have posted, displayed on the large screen digital billboard in Times Square, New York City, then you probably should not post it.

Chelsea L. Dixon, M.S., M.A.T, Author. Speaker. CEO.

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Regardless of whether or not a particular college or university will look at your profile during the admissions process, you should still be mindful of what you post on social media networks. You don’t want something you did and/or wrote on one of those sites to come back to embarrass you. Inappropriate language, photos, etc. can have a negative impact and reflection on your character, not only when you are applying to colleges, but possibly when you apply for a job after graduation from college. Remember, the internet is forever. Assume that anything you post will be accessible forever.

David H. Nguyen, Education Consultant, College Lecturer, PhD

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Only college admissions officers, and the people whom they tell, really know the answer to this. However, since admissions officers are known to discuss the merits of individual applicants and to fact check – or just check out cool material about the applicant online – it is likely that the officers will encounter an applicant’s social media profiles. Think of all the news stories of terrible things that college students get in trouble for: vandalism, drunk driving hit-and-run deaths, sexual assault, racial hate crimes, etc. In many of these cases, alcohol and drugs are involved. So which applicant do you think is most likely to cause future trouble for the university in the mind of the admissions officer? The one who has pictures of himself as a well-presented person suggestive of adequate self-control, or the half-naked guy vomiting into empty beer bottles? You might be the uber Zen Buddhist self-control ninja 99% of the time, but that Facebook profile picture of you offering your gift of fresh puke to beer-zebub, the god of empty beverage bottles, is all that the admissions officer may see…. People have gotten fired from their jobs for what they posted on social media, so your social media personhood is unlikely to be immune to this type of scrutiny.

, Yes, they should.

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Yes, they should. They have the right to access this information, it is public domain and there is no expectation of privacy in a social network, which works on the concept of public sharing of personal information. A persons posts on sites such as FB give a much more accurate indication of how that person will behave in the workplace than can be gleaned from an application which is full of misleading and often false statements provided by the applicant.

Brittney Miller, Graduate student currently on the job market, college instructor

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It's possible that colleges may look at your social media profiles during the admissions process. The likelihood of this happening will depend on the individual college. Regardless of whether or not colleges look at your social media profiles, you should post things that don't reflect poorly on you. If you're worried about something that you've posted online, then remove it and don't post those types of things anymore. You never know who (admissions officers, employers, etc.) you're going to meet, how they will influence your life, and when they look at your posts, so you should put your best foot forward and present yourself respectfully through your online presence as well as your physical one.

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