What Do College Admissions Officers Look for on Facebook Pages?

What do college admissions officers look for when scanning the Facebook profiles of applicants? Kaplan Test Prep surveyed nearly 400 of them from across the U.S. to find out.

What do college admissions officers look for when scanning the Facebook profiles of applicants? Kaplan Test Prep surveyed nearly 400 of them from across the U.S. to find out.

According to Kaplan, 40 percent of admissions officers said they visit applicants’ profiles on Facebook and other social networks to learn more about them, marking a record since Kaplan starting tracking the trend in 2008, when that figure was only about 10 percent.

A total of 89 percent of admissions officers said they “rarely” visit social media profiles, while 11 percent admitted to doing so often, Kaplan reported, adding that 29 percent of them have searched for applicants on Google, with that figure remaining relatively steady over the past two years.

But what impact do their findings have on applicants’ chances for admission? According to Kaplan, the same percentage of admissions officers said what they found positively impacted and negatively impacted those chances—37 percent.

Admissions officers shared the following “trigger points” with Kaplan:

  • Interest in talents: Some admissions officer said they will visit an applicant’s social media page–often by the applicant’s own invitation–if the applicant mentions a special talent, for example, such as being a musician, artist, poet, writer or model. In fact, 42 percent of admissions officers reported an increase in such invitations compared with two years ago.
  • Verification of awards: Citation of particularly distinguished or noteworthy awards can sometimes trigger an admissions officer’s online search for independent verification–as one officer noted, something “out of the norm.”
  • Criminal records or disciplinary action: Some admissions officers say that if an applicant mentions that they have a criminal background or a record of disciplinary action, they will do some online digging to get more details.
  • Scholarships: Students applying for special scholarships can come under greater scrutiny, as schools want to ensure that those receiving the scholarships are fully deserving. Extra due diligence can come in the form of online checking.
  • Admissions sabotage: Anecdotally, admissions officers say they occasionally get anonymous tips about prospective students pointing them toward inappropriate behavior. They’ll sometimes dig online to see if it has merit.

Kaplan executive director of research Yariv Alpher said in a release announcing the findings:

The growth of social media hasn’t made college admissions a whole new ballgame, but it’s definitely impacted the rules. What you post online can and may be used in your favor or against you, so it’s important to think about what you share. When in doubt, the best strategy may be to keep it to yourself.

Readers: How much cleansing would you have to do on your profiles on Facebook or other social networks if you were applying to colleges right now?


Photo credit: COD Newsroom via Visual Hunt / CC BY

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.