April 20, 2011 80% of Colleges are Looking at Your Social Media, So Work It!
In preparation for writing 24 Things you Can Do With Social Media to Help Get into College, I spoke to hundreds of admissions officers about how they were using social media in their admissions processes. Many of them informed me that they were looking at the Facebook and MySpace pages of their applicants, and that what they saw was influencing their admissions decisions. At that time, (two years ago) very few of them wanted to go on record about their social media snooping. But one admissions officer did confess that he will on occasion have the applicant’s Facebook page on his computer while reviewing an application. Several acknowledged that though they do not customarily look up candidates online, when they do, what they find has an impact on their assessment.
Many admissions officers said that their offices do not have the time nor the manpower to look up every candidate and read their social media information, but some agree that a quick Google or Facebook search really doesn’t take that long. Now, a recent Kaplan Survey has disclosed that the trend of looking online is becoming more accepted. According to the survey, 80% of college admissions officers have come out of the closet about their willingness to look at, and be influenced by, applicants’ social media.
The fact that colleges have whole-heartedly embraced social media is not that new. And this ever-evolving reality is not all bad news. The fact is– social media is, and is only more increasingly, becoming an important tool in an applicant’s college admissions arsenal. When you break down the Kaplan study, as Schools.com has so helpfully done, there are some important positive insights to be gleaned. In the survey, 62% of college admissions respondents said that the social media profiles they reviewed actually helped the candidate. So they had a positive impact. Seventy percent of schools say that Facebook profiles of candidates are a medium to high priority in the admissions process. Eighty-two percent of colleges say they use Facebook. Fifty-six percent are on Twitter and 56% are on YouTube. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are watching you on these sites, as much as it means they have their own presence there.
Most colleges have at least one Facebook Group or Like page to share with their community and to highlight the school’s activities and accomplishments. Some have several pages. Princeton has 14, for example. These pages represent different departments and programs of the school and are great ways to see what is happening on campus and to connect. Similarly, a large number of schools have their own channels on YouTube. If you check out YouTubeEDU, you will be amazed at the wide variety of video available on college channels– admissions advice, lectures, student projects, commencement ceremonies– the whole gamut. And colleges are very active on Twitter! The college-related tweets on Twitter are so numerous, it truly boggles the mind!
As much as I am an advocate for showcasing your best self online, the truth is that spying on candidates is not the primary reason colleges have embraced social media. They want to find the best and the brightest students by meeting them when they are…and the research is clear– students are on Facebook! It’s important, then, to be aware that schools are online and participating in social media. But the degree to which they are using Facebook profiles to make admissions decisions should not be too overblown.
Several admissions officers that I interviewed expressed some concern about how students (and their parents) will react to this increasing practice of looking up candidates online. The last thing admissions decision-makers want is for students to begin to create artificial social media spaces solely for purposes of college admissions. This would be unfortunate. No one, including college admissions personnel, wants to see a scrubbed down, uninteresting blog site or social media profile that reflects little about who the candidate really is.
So what is a student to do? How should college applicants respond to the very clear message that what they do and say online may now have an impact? The best way to capitalize on this new reality, instead of shutting down or white-washing your site, is to make it work for you! Use you social media to showcase your interests, strengths and attributes. And make sure you leave on your pages what makes you interesting and unique.
One thing to do for sure– it’s a good idea to take the pictures of you drinking with a beer in both hands off your Facebook profile and reduce the 1000 pictures of yourself at parties…. But more about this later…
For a more expanded discussion, go to College Admissions on Facebook: Not All Bad News on Blogher.com.