Kaplan Survey: College Admissions Officers Say that Last Instagram Pic Might Affect Chances of Getting In

February 10, 2017
Russell Schaffer

Learn the role social media plays in college admissions.

Make sure college admissions officers “like” your social media profiles.

“This picture is crazy! I’m going to post it. I am going to get so many likes.”

Sound familiar? But before you go ahead and share that thing on Facebook—with hundreds of your friends and also millions of people who don’t know you—consider the latest findings from Kaplan’s just released college admissions survey—something we’ve done for over ten years so that students, parents, and counselors can make smart decisions based on accurate, up-to-date information that we collect from the decision makers themselves, admissions officers:

The role of social media in college admissions

According to the 365 colleges across the United States we recently spoke with, 35 percent tell us that they have visited an applicant’s social media page, such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to learn more about them*. While that percentage is slightly down from last year’s record high of 40 percent, it’s still a lot higher than what it was when we first asked this question in 2008—when social media was in its early stages and Facebook was pretty much the only game in town. Consider that Twitter didn’t launch until 2006; and Instagram wasn’t around until 2010. Oh, and hashtags weren’t a thing until 2007.

Here’s where the data gets even more interesting: Of that 35 percent, nearly half say that what they found has had a positive impact on prospective students—up from 37% last year. On the flip side, 42% say that what they found had a negative impact, up from 37% last year. Kaplan’s survey also found that of the admissions officers who use social media to help them make decisions, 25% do so “often”—more than double the 11% who said they did it “often” in last year’s survey.

How social media helps college admissions

  • “One student described on Twitter that she facilitated an LGBTQ panel for her school, which wasn’t in her application. This made us more interested in her overall and encouraged us to imagine how she would help out the community.”
  • “There’s such a negative stereotype of social media that people often forget about the positive effects of it. One student had won an award and had a picture with their principal on their personal page, and it was nice to see.”
  • “One young lady started a company with her mom, so it was cool to visit
    their website,” added another admissions officer.

How social media hurts college admissions

  • “We found a student’s Twitter account with some really questionable language. It wasn’t quite racist, but it showed a cluelessness that you’d expect of a privileged student who hadn’t seen much of the world. It really ran counter to the rest of her application.”
  • “A young man who had been involved in a felony did not disclose his past, which is part of our admissions process. His social media page shared his whole story. If he had been forthcoming, we would not have rescinded his acceptance offer, but we had to.”
  • One admissions officer said that pictures of a student “brandishing weapons” gave him pause when deciding whether to admit the applicant.

Final words of wisdom about social media

So what does this tell us? It means that among the admissions officers who check out applicants online, what they find is having greater impact than it did a year ago. Here’s our advice:

While your college admissions chances are still overwhelmingly decided by the traditional factors such as your GPA, scores on the SAT and/or ACT, letters of recommendation, extracurriculars, essay, etc, social media can act as a real wildcard. And in a hypercompetitive admissions environment, it makes sense to use caution when posting something that could make a school pause when deciding to admit you. Getting a lot of likes and comments on Facebook is good for the ego, but at what cost? Use our adage of “When in doubt, leave it out.”

On the flip side, we encourage you to share things on social media that portray you favorably. Colleges want to enroll students who strengthen the student body. While you don’t want to be a social media show-off, don’t be shy about sharing accomplishments on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or anywhere else in an interesting and respectable way.

Check out our video about social media in college admissions to find out more.

*For the survey, 365 admissions officers from the nation’s top national, regional, and liberal arts colleges and universities—as compiled from U.S. News & World Report—were polled by telephone between July and August 2016.

Russell Schaffer

Russell Schaffer Russell Schaffer is Kaplan Test Prep's senior communications manager. Russell is responsible for helping lead our external media relations efforts, including speaking with reporters and bloggers on a regular basis about Kaplan's proprietary research and products. Russell also helps craft the surveys we regularly administer of students, advisers​,​ and admissions officers. The data collected helps guide the hundreds of thousands of students and parents Kaplan works with every year by giving them accurate and up-to-date information ​about​ the landscape. Russell is a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany, where he received his BA in political science and MA in communications.

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