The competition for slots in the country's most competitive colleges is growing so stiff that admissions officers are under increased pressure to make sure that they get the most complete picture of each candidate. That is why a recent survey of top colleges across the country found that increasingly they are using social networking sites to research and evaluate applicants.
Kaplan, one of the biggest names in the test-prep industry, asked the question of 230 admissions officer from colleges across the country. While the number of officers who admitted to using sites like Facebook and Twitter was relatively small at just 10%, there is an indication that the practice will grow in years to come. This trend even forms the basis of a new breed of businesses, like Experian SafetyWeb, that offer to scour the web for the mentions of their clients and report to them on the general state of their social networking health. For those who find that their online representation might make a college worry, SafetyWeb also provides counseling and tips on how to change the picture to make it more favorable.
"Students today have so many obstacles getting into college. Their social media profile shouldn't be one of those obstacles," Experian SafetyWeb's Senior Vice President of Marketing Ken Chaplin said.
Chaplin said there is more to be said when it comes to a student's online reputation.
For those who aren't interested in retaining SafetyWeb services, Chaplin offers several hints gratis. Before sending off the application, make sure that the claims on it stand up to scrutiny. Doing a quick search on a search engine like Google should give any applicant the reassurance that what they've written in response to application questions won't be easily contradicted by what's available online.
Another good idea is to remove, or make private, any pictures that might be considered risque. Students who are applying for colleges this year, have gone through their whole high school experience obsessively cataloging their lives via pictures, tweets and status updates. The ones that should be easily accessible shouldn't provide any excuses for rejecting a person as a candidate.
Chaplin advises students to clean up old posts.
"Go back through your profile and make sure all your posts that are there are ones that you want there," Chaplin said.
Students should set their accounts to private, so only the people they want seeing their information can see it.
"Set limits to the ability for people to tag you. On your profile, upload photos of you or the like," Chaplin said.
Even if a particular dream college doesn't look at social media as part of their application process, learning how to manage their online reputation early will definitely prepare students for a time when they graduate and attempt to enter the job market. While only 10% of colleges are currently peeking online to get a full picture of a candidate, a substantially larger number of employers are depending on Google searches as much as they are depending on the resume and the references to determine who is a good fit for a job.