Admissions Snooping on Social Media: the Data

Report about Harvard revoking admissions offers over offensive posts in Facebook chat group raises the question of how admissions officers view and use applicants' social media.

June 5, 2017

A report from The Harvard Crimson this morning is prompting considerable discussion among admissions professionals and appears to be causing some fear among accepted and future applicants. The report (unconfirmed by the university) says that 10 applicants who were admitted had their acceptances revoked over their participation in a private Facebook group called “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens." The group reportedly included jokes about abusing children and the Holocaust, and insulting remarks about members of various racial and ethnic groups.

While we can't confirm the report, data do show that admissions officers (at least a notable minority) review applicants' social media postings and consider them, in some cases, relevant to admissions decisions.

Kaplan Test Prep does an annual survey of admissions officers and asks whether they use social media to check on applicants. The most recent results, released in February, show a declining proportion of admissions officers doing so, but those who do so say they are likely to be influenced in their views of applicants.

Some of the findings from the 350 admissions officers surveyed:

  • The percentage of admissions officers who check applicants’ social media profiles has dropped to 35 percent, from 40 percent a year ago, but those who check say that what they find is influential.
  • 47 percent (of those who check) say that what they found has had a positive impact on prospective students, and that's an increase from 37 percent last year.
  • 42 percent say that what they found had a negative impact, up from 37 percent.
  • Of those who check, 25 percent said that they do so "often," more than double the 11 percent from the previous year.

Of the examples quoted in the survey report on negative impact on applicants, one involved social media statements that were offensive. “We found a student’s Twitter account with some really questionable language. It wasn’t quite racist, but it showed a cluelessness that you’d expect of a privileged student who hadn’t seen much of the world. It really ran counter to the rest of her application,” said the admissions officer.

The Kaplan data suggest social media reviews typically occur before an admissions offer and may not reflect discoveries on social media after an offer has been made. But Harvard has been in the news in the past for revoking offers. In 1995, the university rescinded an offer of admission to a student after learning that she had killed her mother five years earlier.

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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