Social media more damaging to college applicants

By Lily Beatty

The college application process can be overwhelming to high school seniors, and according to a Kaplan Test prep survey, the process has become even more of a challenge in the past year.

The results from Kaplan Test Prep’s 2012 survey of college admission offices show a slightly increased use of Facebook and Google as a tool in application evaluations to about 26 percent and 27 percent respectively, compared to the previous year where Facebook was also used 26 percent of the time, but Google was only used 20 percent of the time.

While this statistical jump is relatively small in relation to the year prior, the number of applicants who had damaging material found on their social networking pages that negatively impacted their applications nearly tripled from 12 percent to 35 percent this year.

“The offenses we heard repeatedly [from admission officers] were underage drinking, vulgarities, essay plagiarism, academic offenses and suspect material,” Colin Gruenwald, director of SAT and ACT programs for Kaplan Test Prep, said.

Students’ social networking profiles might paint a different picture of the college hopefuls than they would like.

“The traditional application—-, the essays, the letters of recommendation, represent the polished version of an applicant, while often what’s found online is a rawer version of that applicant,” Jeff Olson, vice president of data science, said in a Kaplan press release.

His advice to students is to “think first, tweet later.”

Of the schools polled, only 15 percent of admissions offices have rules in place to guide the use of social media in an application review process, according to the release. This leaves the majority of admissions offices with the ability to search for applicants with no restrictions, besides basic privacy settings.

But that does not mean that all schools are using the Internet as an evaluation tool.

“It is not part of our evaluation process and I cannot imagine it ever will be,” David Gildea, associate director of marketing and recruitment for Penn State admissions, said.

With social media and the Internet, there is a lot of information that may be or may not be factual, Gildea said.

“It’s almost like using Wikipedia as an information tool. You cannot test its veracity,” Gildea said. “It’s a fun, anecdotal tool.”

Gildea also said that with Penn State U. application numbers, it would be nearly impossible to search every student on the Internet.

Penn State is not alone in its non-use of social media in the application process.

The survey shows that about 25 percent of admissions officers are using social networking and 75 percent reported that they are not, Gruenwald said.

“Although more than a quarter of admissions officers have said they go to Facebook or Google, its still not something they do on a regular basis. We consider this a wild card factor,” Gruenwald said.

Kaplan advised students to carefully monitor their privacy settings and to check their digital trail, Gruenwald said.

Some students do take precautions when it comes to Facebook.

PSU freshman Maria Reviello said she monitors the material that is on her Facebook wall.

“I don’t upload pictures from parties and I do not use vulgarities,” Reviello said.

Before Reviello applied to colleges, she untagged pictures that could be considered unprofessional.

But even with these precautions, Kaplan advises to not post damaging material in the first place because the Internet has a long memory, Gruenwald said.

“The last thing any student wants is to spend years building their academic credentials, only to have their application impacted negatively by an off-the-cuff comment or negative posting they never should have posted,” Gruenwald said.

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