According to a recent study performed by Kaplan Test Prep, a record number of college admissions officers are looking at the social media sites of prospective students when considering who to admit.
The study, which surveyed roughly 400 college admissions officers across the country, discovered that 40% are visiting the social media pages of applicants when making their decisions. Kaplan first considered this idea in 2008. Since that time, the percentage has quadrupled.
Although the website visits are rare, with 89% of officers saying they used social media at a low frequency, 11% of participants did say they used the technique "often" in order to learn more about an applicant, writes Cheyenne MacDonald for The Daily Mail.
"Social media can play a role in telling a better story about an applicant and help a school better understand who it is that they're admitting and what kind of match or fit that might be," says Yariv Alpher, executive director of research at Kaplan Test Prep.
The survey found officers were more likely to visit social media sites when one of five trigger points were discovered on an application, including a specific interest, an award, a criminal record, those students applying for scholarships, and admissions sabotage. If a student listed a particular interest or talent that held the interest of the officer, such as community service, social media helped them to learn more. In addition, awards can be verified, and criminal backgrounds explained more thoroughly. Meanwhile, students applying for scholarships are under a higher level of scrutiny because merit-based aid is offered to those students considered to be most deserving.
Admissions officers also mentioned that they sometimes receive anonymous tips concerning "inappropriate behavior" and that social media can help them determine the truthfulness of these tips, reports Christy Osler for USA Today.
Despite this, college students do not seem to care, as a 2014 Kaplan survey of over 500 high school students finding that 58% say their social profiles are "fair game" for admissions officers. 35% said that if an officer were to visit their page, what they found would only increase their chances of being accepted.
However, some students argue that the sites are meant to be a platform for personal expression and should only be seen by friends and followers.
"I think that college admissions officers looking at social media profiles is a little intrusive," says Miranda Mancini, a sophomore at Boston University.
Mancini went on to say that she felt the criminal checks warranted enough of a reason to visit social media pages, saying that "horrible acts of violence have taken place on campuses."
Interestingly, Alpher said that social media sites hurt students' chances of acceptance just as much as they helped, as 37% of officers were just as likely to say an applicant's social page increased their chances as they were to say it hurt their chances.
Alpher offered some advice to parents and students, saying they should be careful what they post on their social media accounts because "it really is out there."