Decline Found in Colleges That Check Applicants' Social Media

Part of the shift may relate to increased popularity of sites on which posts are easier to hide.

December 3, 2018

Admissions officers have become less likely than in recent years to check on the social media accounts of applicants, according to a new survey by Kaplan Test Prep.

The survey -- with responses from 364 four-year colleges -- found that about 25 percent check on at least some applicants' social media accounts, down from 40 percent in 2015. Many admissions officers told Kaplan that, except in unusual circumstances, they don't feel a need to check what applicants are posting online. "Unless it’s a matter of checking on something that might be a hate crime or endangering other people, then it becomes a safety issue, but otherwise it’s a privacy issue," one admissions officer said.

A majority (57 percent) said that it was "fair game" to visit applicants' social media sites. And a Kaplan survey of students found that 70 percent of them agree that checking is "fair game."

But colleges that want to check social media may have more difficulty doing so than in the past. Many surveys have found that teens are moving away from sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which are relatively easy for others to view, and are embracing sites such as Instagram and Snapchat. On those sites, it is easier for those who have accounts to quickly share and delete postings or to block outsiders from viewing what they have posted.

A majority of colleges (52 percent) reported their view that "students have become savvier about hiding their social media presence over the past few years."

An analysis by Yariv Alpher, director of research at Kaplan Test Prep, said, "We're seeing the result of combining trends here. On the one hand, students are more savvy. They are more careful with what they post and are increasingly using more private social networks. In some cases they also create fake accounts that they only share with friends, but which are not easily attributed to them. On the other hand, admissions officers are increasingly conscious of the need to maintain students' privacy, and are more inclined to use social media in a more targeted way. Regardless, social media remains an admissions factor for a significant number of colleges, so students should be mindful of what they share."

Student social media posts can lead colleges to reject applicants or even to revoke acceptances.

Last year, Harvard University rescinded acceptances to 10 people who participated in a highly offensive Facebook group called "Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens." The group included jokes about abusing children and the Holocaust, and insulting remarks about members of various racial and ethnic groups.


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