Results from Kaplan Test Prep’s 2019 college admissions officers find that 36 percent of the nearly 300 admissions officers polled visit applicants’ social media profiles like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to learn more about them—up from 25 percent last year and following a three year decline in the practice since the high mark of 40 percent in Kaplan’s 2015 survey. This comes as teens are increasingly using newer social platforms such as TikTok and Twitch.
Of admissions officers who have checked out an applicant’s social media footprint, about one in five (19 percent) say they do it “often,” significantly higher than the 11 percent who said they checked “often” in Kaplan’s 2015 survey. Of the admissions officers who say they check social media to learn more about their applicants, 38 percent say that what they found has had a positive impact on prospective students. On the flip side, 32 percent say that what they found had a negative impact. Both of these figures have fluctuated slightly over the past few years.
The Kaplan survey found that although less than half of admissions officers visit applicants’ social media profiles, 59 percent—slightly higher than last year’s 57 percent—consider it “fair game,” while only 41 percent consider it “an invasion of privacy that shouldn’t be done.” College applicants are notably more accepting of this practice than admissions officers; in a separate Kaplan survey completed last year, 70 percent of college applicants said they believe it’s “fair game” for college admissions officers to check social media profiles.
“In tracking the role of social media in the college admissions process over the past eleven years, what we’re seeing is that while admissions officers have become more ideologically comfortable with the idea of visiting applicants’ social media profiles as part of their decision-making process, in practice, the majority still don’t actually do it. They often tell us that while it shouldn’t be off limits, they are much more focused on evaluating prospective students on the traditional admissions factors like an applicant’s GPA, SAT and ACT scores, letters of recommendation, admissions essay, and extracurriculars,” says Sam Pritchard, director of college prep programs, Kaplan Test Prep.
“We continue to believe that applicants’ social media content remains a wildcard in the admissions process, with what they post possibly being the tipping point of whether they or not they’re admitted to the college of their choice. Our consistent advice to teens is to remain careful and strategic about what they decide to share. In 25 years, you’ll definitely remember where you graduated college from, but you’ll unlikely remember how many people liked that photo of what you did over winter break.”