When a prospective student applies to college, it is expected that his or her application profile will be judged—whether it be on grades, standardized test scores, or a combination of factors. A growing trend among college admissions officers, though, involves a different profile check of an applicant: a Facebook profile.
Facebook has become a vital source for admissions professionals looking for background information on prospective students. In a recent survey of admissions officers at 359 colleges and universities, Kaplan Test Prep revealed that 24 percent of respondents reported using Facebook or other social networking pages to research an applicant. This is a significant increase from 2008, when only 10 percent reported using social media as a source during the admissions process.
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While policies for researching an applicant's social media footprint are not standard yet at most schools, Martha Allman, dean of admissions at Wake Forest University, says that her staff uses Facebook profiles more as a means of introduction rather than investigation.
"Some of my staff members will, prior to an admissions interview, look at Facebook just to get a sense of who the student is," Allman says. "As far as using it to check up on our applicants, though, we would rarely do that."
Although viewing social media sites sparingly may be common practice for the admissions office at Wake Forest, Allman suggests students be conscientious of the content they make public.
"I think anything that is in the public domain is fair game for admissions counselors to look at," she says. "Admissions officers are part of the public and, if they choose to research [social media], I don't consider that an invasion of privacy."
For students who did not opt to set privacy settings on Facebook, the consequences may have come in the form of college rejection letters. In the Kaplan Test Prep survey, 12 percent of respondents who reported checking social media sites noted that posts—such as vulgar language in a status update or alcohol consumption in photos—negatively impacted a prospective student's admissions chances.
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Emma Siegel, a freshman at Rochester Institute of Technology, says that while many students may not be cognizant of the practices of college admissions officers, it is fair for school officials to use the social networks to research applicants.
"Your Facebook is supposed to show how you want to be perceived," Siegel says. "And if you're doing stupid things on your Facebook, that's how people will perceive you."
While using social media to research prospective students is a growing trend, the majority of respondents in the survey do not use the platform during the admissions process, notes Florence Hines, vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions at McDaniel College in Maryland.
"I tend to believe that we operate in a world in admissions where we believe the best of people," Hines says. "We take the information that is provided to us and the fact that a student verifies it as the truth, and we go from there."
According to Hines, McDaniel College has not yet deviated from the traditional admissions practices, and using social media to get background information on a student "isn't really on our priority list as for what makes a good fit for our institution." Still, Hines acknowledges that the current state of social media could mean changes for college applicants applying to other institutions.
"I believe the reality that if this trend increases, students need to be very cautious of the fact that admissions offices will use this information," she says.
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Avid Facebook users who will be applying to colleges in the near future may want to take advantage of their public profile as a means of showcasing strengths and achievements. That's worked for applicants at Wake Forest, dean Allman notes, who have boosted their admissions chances by posting projects, research, and writing on Facebook for schools to view.