The Inside Scoop on College Admissions
I had the enviable opportunity recently to meet with a group of admissions officers from 10 different colleges and universities to talk about the college admissions process in the digital age. I went into the meeting with a list of questions:
How has social media changed college admissions both from an admissions department perspective and an applicant’s perspective?
Most admissions departments look at social media as another tool in their arsenal to evaluate students during the admissions process. Some schools told me they regularly use students’ social media in their evaluation of potential candidates for admission while others said that while they don’t use it for most students, they do however use it for some. Interestingly, every admissions representative in the room said they want students to connect with their school via social media if they are really interested in the school. Connecting with the school lets them know that the student is a serious candidate. This is a double-edged sword though because they all admitted that by connecting, students open up their profiles to the school and the schools have an open window into the kind of person potential candidates are in their actual lives (not just the lives they portray on their applications).
Whether you look at social media or not in the admissions process, what types of posts, photos, etc. would cause you to register concern about a potential applicant?
Every school said without a doubt, any type of illegal activity that students post (regardless of whether it’s in a text, photo or video) would cause them to re-consider a potential applicant for admission. Schools are very serious about recognizing the reality that someone who chooses to post anything illegal (drugs, alcohol, tobacco… all illegal for kids 18 and under) isn’t exercising good judgment and may not represent their academic institution well. Another interesting bit of information I heard had to do with email addresses. Admissions professionals told me they are constantly dumbfounded by the number of applicants who give them “inappropriate” email addresses (my favorite was “lovingdoubleds@____.com”). They told me that when they see an email like this associated with a student, it again, causes them to question the judgment of that student and how they might represent the university or college.
If you were to see something that caused you to view the applicant in a detrimental light, would it or could it affect their chances for admission?
The answer here was definitely yes especially when it related to illegal activity.
Understanding that you can’t check tens of thousands of applicants’ profiles, do you ever look? If so, why and when?
Most of the admissions professionals said that their school looks sometimes – no one said they looked at every candidate. The rub here is that students never know when they look and when they don’t. Many said when students apply for scholarships or to highly competitive programs at a school they look. Others told me that sometimes other applicants will send them screenshots of other potential applicants’ social media posts to encourage them to “take a closer look” at someone they see as an opponent in the college admissions game.
If you do look, what do you want to see online? What causes you to view someone in a positive light?
When I asked this question, the response I got was authenticity. They don’t want to see a completely sanitized profile. They understand that teens use bad language from time to time, that they sometime post photos they probably shouldn’t (this doesn’t refer to photos depicting illegal activity) and in general, act like teens. They expect to see a certain amount of content that might make a parent cringe a bit. In addition to understanding teens behaving like teens though, they want to see that your application and essays are in fact a reflection of your real life. If you are going to write an essay about how volunteering at the Humane Society changed your life, you better have some posts and some pictures of yourself working there or talking about it.
Do tour guides who connect via social media with prospective candidates ever share with the admissions office information they find out online about an applicant?
The short answer here is that some do and some don’t. One admissions professional told me a story about an attractive female student tour guide who was leading a group on a tour around campus. While the tour was going on, two applicants on the tour were live tweeting their impressions of the tour guide. She saw the tweets and immediately reported it to the admissions department. Guess what? Those two applicants didn’t get in (and it had nothing to do with their grades or test scores).
What advice would you give to potential applicants regarding their social media pages/profiles before they apply to college?
All the admissions professionals told me that they think all applicants need to take a good look at their online profiles and make sure that they represent them as they want to be viewed. Schools will not call applicants to ask about posts they saw online, they will form their own judgments and sometimes those judgments can keep a student from attending the school they wanted to attend.
In the end, Ted Spencer, the recently retired Dean of Admissions at the University of Michigan made it clear that students need to be concerned about how they present themselves online:
“If you want to present your best self to either college admissions officers or an employer, it really makes sense to use The Social U before you apply.”