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Applying to College? Watch Your Tweets!

If you're applying to college, your public tweets and Facebook posts may be of significantly more interest to college admissions officers now than they were five years ago, according to a new report from Kaplan Test Prep. Earlier this year, Kaplan surveyed 381 admissions officers from top U.S. national, regional, and liberal arts colleges and universities to get a glimpse of the tracking practices of admissions officers when it comes to applicants for their undergraduate classes. Among the findings:

  • 29% of college admissions officers reported having Googled an applicant 
  • 31% of college admissions officers reported visiting an applicant's Facebook page or other social networking site to learn more about them
  • 30% of college admissions officers reported having found something that had a negative impact on an applicant's chances for college admission
But even in the face of these daunting numbers (the rates of Googling applicants and visiting their social networking pages are at their highest rates since Kaplan began tracking these practices in 2008), Kaplan found that college applicants, for the most part, have little concern about the tracking of their social media reputations. A survey of 422 Kaplan students revealed that:
  • 50% of college applicants would be "not at all concerned" about a college admissions officer conducting an online search on them
  • 27% of college applicants would be "not too concerned" about a college admissions officer conducting an online search on them
  • 14% of college applicants would be "very concerned" about a college admissions officer conducting an online search on them
The survey did not report on whether students who were unconcerned remained so because they had no public social media posts that they felt would be questionable, or because they simply did not feel the need to change their online behavior to fit the mold or picture that an admissions officer might be looking for. However, a recent article in the New York Times suggests that despite the Kaplan findings, students have little reason to be concerned, unless they are making significantly offensive comments or showing a pattern of poor judgement (in photos or written posts). The article reports that students may also be less concerned because they are becoming quite savvy about monitoring posts they are tagged in and clamping down on privacy settings to manage their social media reputations, especially during the college admissions process. 
So what guidelines can you take away from these findings? Here are some tips to keep in mind for managing your social media reputation during the college admissions process:
  1. Make sure your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media profiles have a socially acceptable, non-offensive username. Keep in mind that a username that may be an inside joke or seem harmless to you may be offensive or misinterpreted by others. If in doubt, ask a trusted friend, parent, or advisor.
  2. Never make disparaging comments on your social media sites about your high school teachers, fellow students, and especially the schools you are applying to and the admissions process.
  3. Untag yourself from photos involving alcohol or questionable judgement, and update your privacy settings to make sure you are able to review photos you are tagged in before the tag is approved and appears on your public profile.
  4. Update your privacy settings to restrict others from making public posts on your own profile, particularly those contacts who may be likely to make questionable comments or post photos that cast you in an unflattering light.
  5. If you have a common name and think that an admissions officer may have reacted negatively to social media posts on someone else's profile, be sure to contact the admissions office to set the record straight. Diligent admissions officers are likely to contact you to clarify anything they find that might impact an admissions decision, but it never hurts to be proactive in defending your online reputation.

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