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The growing importance of social media in the college admissions process

Wednesday, October 10, 2012
High school seniors preparing for college may want to exercise caution when uploading personal photos and status updates to social media platforms. According to a recent survey by Kaplan Test Prep, the examination preparation arm of educational publisher Kaplan, increasing numbers of college admissions officials are examining students' social media profiles when assessing their applications.

A changing online landscape
In the past, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter were generally overlooked by college admissions officials. Today, however, the pervasiveness of Twitter, Google+ and even Pinterest has made students' personal lives much more public. The study revealed that while the number of college admissions officials taking to the Internet to research applicants increased only slightly, the amount of inappropriate material discovered increased from 12 percent last year to 35 percent this year. Plagiarism in admissions essays, vulgarity in online blogs and images depicting the consumption of alcoholic beverages were cited as material that could be damaging to candidates' applications.

Kaplan Test Prep's research indicated that 27 percent of the 350 admissions officers polled performed Google searches of applicants, and 26 percent searched for candidates' Facebook profiles. These numbers highlight the importance of maintaining an appropriate online presence for students. However, with some planning, students can use social media to their advantage during the applications process.

"I will say that if someone forwards us a particularly egregious tweet or picture on Facebook, it could influence our decision," said Debbie Stieffel, vice president of enrollment management at Pennsylvania's Susquehanna University. "On the other hand, I’ve seen some very fine Facebook efforts toward worthy causes that might influence decisions in a positive direction. Sometimes students themselves will direct us to their profiles if they have been a part of something great."

Playing it safe
Despite the importance of maintaining an appropriate social media presence, most schools do not purposefully examine applicants' social media profiles for potentially damaging material.

"We believe that sites such as Facebook and Twitter represent a student’s social medium and should be respected as such," said Chris Boehm, assistant vice president for enrollment and director of admission at Pennsylvania's Albright College. "Opinions and comments that students share on these sites are not a predictor of their future college success, and therefore we do not use them when reviewing an applicant’s file."

Accentuate the positive
Michele Hernandez, a college admissions consultant, wrote on HuffPost College that students should perform Google searches on themselves and ensure that material that is publicly accessible is appropriate. Common sense would dictate that a student’s social media content should present the individual in a positive light. With that in mind, college-bound students should focus on highlighting personal achievements they are proud of on their social media accounts.ADNFCR-16000756-ID-800882476-ADNFCR - helping you find colleges and universities that offer the accredited programs that most interest you.

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