Why Social Media in College Admissions Matters

June 5, 2017
Russell Schaffer

Learn how social media affects college admissions.

Guess what? Your conduct on social media affects college admissions.

Original publication: February 24, 2017

UPDATE: The news of Harvard’s rescinding of 10 acceptances for students who posted offensive memes in a private group chat reaffirms the consequences of using poor judgment online—even after admittance. In this instance, as in many, social content was brought to the attention of the school administration by other students. “For better or worse, social media has become an established factor in college admissions, and it’s more important than ever for applicants to make wise decisions,” Yariv Alpher, executive director of research at Kaplan Test Prep, says.

Find out more about what kind of posts admissions officers say impact student’s chances.

Pros and cons of social media

Watch what you post on social media.

Every year since 2008, Kaplan Test Prep has been surveying college admissions officers on how social media is changing the admissions landscape. In a nutshell, it continues to evolve. Here is what we most recently found: While the percentage of admissions officers who check applicants’ social media profiles has dipped (35% versus 40% last year), a greater percentage of those who do check social media say it has influenced their views on applicants.

Of the 35% of admissions officers who say they check social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more about applicants, 47% 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.

“We want to make sure that students still have a means to have fun and be able to connect socially and not have to worry about ‘how I am presenting myself for a college,’ except for the fact of just make sure you’re not posting things that you’ll regret,” said Beth Wiser, executive director of admissions for the University of Vermont.

There’s (still) an app for that

And speaking of social media’s role in the admissions process, have you heard of the app ZeeMee? ZeeMe can be described as hybrid of Facebook-MySpace that college applicants can use to show admissions officers what they’re all about, via photos, videos, essays, and other visual materials designed to impress.

“Our passion was even if we could help one student tell their story in a very 21st-century manner, we were doing our job. So we started with that passion, that mission, and now we have students in over 150 countries using our platform to tell their story,” said Juan Jaysingh, ZeeMee’s young founder and CEO.

As one student said, “I have learned that I am a lot more special than I thought I was, and that’s what ZeeMee stands for 100 percent. Your story is important and you matter.”

Rescinding a letter of recommendation

It’s crunch time in the college admissions process for high school seniors. By this point in the cycle, students will have submitted all their applications. College admissions officers are meeting in committees to discuss and debate who’s getting in, with word coming for most in April. But many who applied early admissions may have already heard back from their schools. All that being said, there are a few wrenches that could derail applicants’ chances.

At a high school in Massachusetts, this midyear report is causing a real uproar, as a teacher rescinded her letter of recommendation after a student she had written one for created a swastika out of tape and propped it up on a garbage bin. For unknown reasons, the teacher who did this was disciplined.

This action taken by the school against a member of its faculty is coming under criticism. “From an ethical standpoint, I would argue that the teacher owns the letter and has the right to rescind,” said James W. Jump is author of the Ethical College Admissions blog, who seems to defend the teacher’s action .

Two lessons here: Specifically, NEVER make a swastika. It’s not artwork. And it’s never funny. It’s offensive. Secondly, even if you’re already submitted your application, the admissions process isn’t over until you get word.

Cutting ties with an old hero

You might remember the name John C. Calhoun from your history class. He was a 19th century vice president and senator who acquired a reputation of being a fire breather on the issue of states rights and perpetuating the institution of slavery.

To many secessionists leading up to the Civil War, Calhoun was an inspiration and flame to rally around, though he died in 1850, a decade before his native South Carolina left the Union. To detractors, he was an unrepented white supremacist. Calhoun was also a graduate of Yale University, which until earlier this year had a residential hall named in his honor.

This reverses a decision Yale made in which it decided that it didn’t want to erase history, but rather learn from it. But the pressure grew too great, and now the hall is named for Grace Murray Hopper, a woman who accomplished herself in technology and computer science.

“The minute that the announcement came out, people stuck their heads out of the window and yelled, ‘Wahoo!’” said Julia Adams, a Yale sociology professor who heads Grace Murray Hopper College.

For more on social media and college admissions, watch our video on best practices and takeaways.

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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