Most students are well aware that future employers may one day follow their social media trail, but this readily accessible information might influence their future even sooner than that: Social media has become a part of the college admissions process. In addition to determining whether a student is a good fit for a school, social media is also being used to decide how to allocate scholarship funds among applicants.
In many instances, social media supports and even enhances applications. Forty percent of admissions offices are tapping into these online resources because it can offer a fuller picture of an applicant’s story and provide details that can’t always be found from a student’s GPA, test scores and essays. It often lets a student’s extracurricular activities, passions and talents shine, and it is also used to learn more about a student’s recognition or confirm an award.
However, there are also cases of social media negatively impacting a candidate’s chances. In some instances, social media can serve a more investigative purpose. For example, when students provide details of criminal backgrounds — something that is required in applications —online platforms sometimes reveal additional information about the event(s) in question.
Posting offensive messaging, sharing inappropriate pictures and using obscenities in a public format are also examples of online behavior that can reflect poorly on a candidate in the eyes of admissions officers. In fact, a student who recently visited Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Me., posted negative commentary throughout a campus information session. Had she not been denied due to her academics, admissions officers told the New York Times, she would have ended up in the rejection pile due to her use of poor judgment.
Social media is expected to continue to shape the admissions process. Even prestigious Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale are considering more holistic metrics to learn about undergraduate applicants — something that may help level the playing field amongst students moving forward. For example, helping support one’s family or demonstrating interest in a particular cause might eventually play a role in an application decision, and social media could certainly help share such stories with schools.
In addition, many students fully expect admissions officers to review their social profiles to learn more about them; a Kaplan survey found that 58 percent of high school students surveyed describe their pages as “fair game.” While more than half (62 percent) believe admissions departments wouldn’t find anything that would sway them either way, 35 percent of students believe it would help their chances of getting in.
Overall, the impact of social media on a student’s chances is not yet clear and admissions officers are currently split: 37 percent said it usually helped one’s chances while 37 percent stated the opposite being true. Either way, social media is not going away anytime soon, and it will continue to play a meaningful role in college admissions just as it does in the college experience.