Kaplan Test Prep Survey Finds Colleges And Applicants Agree: Social Media is Fair Game in the Admissions Process

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Press Contact: Russell Schaffer, russell.schaffer@kaplan.com, 212.453.7538
Twitter: @KapTestNews, @KaplanSATACT


New York, NY (April 17, 2018) — More than two-thirds of colleges (68 percent) say that it’s “fair game” for them to visit applicants’ social media profiles like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to help them decide who gets in — despite the fact that less than a third actually engage in the practice, according to Kaplan Test Prep’s annual survey of admissions officers*. Notably, students agree: a separate Kaplan survey of over 900 high school students finds that 70 percent consider social media profiles “fair game” for admissions officers evaluating applicants — an increase from 58 percent in 2014**.

Admissions officers who say it’s “fair game” shared the following reasoning:

  • “Employers do it all the time. Colleges can do it as well.”
  • “I think if things are publicly accessible without undue intrusion, it’s OK. If it’s searchable, it’s fair game.”
  • “We don’t do this, but we could. I think high school seniors make poor choices sometimes when they put stuff online.”

Admissions officers who said they viewed this as an “invasion of privacy” shared the following:

  • “Their application should be the sole decider.”
  • “We use social media for recruitment, not admissions.”
  • “We only look at social media if the applicant includes or provides it.”

But while a strong majority of admissions officers are ideologically comfortable with this practice, only 29 percent say they have actually done it — a decline from 35 percent last year, and down from a 40 percent high watermark in Kaplan’s 2015 survey. But this isn’t because admissions officers are necessarily forbidden from doing it, as only 20 percent say that their school has official guidelines or policies; and of that 20 percent, only 33 percent are not permitted to do so.

Yariv Alpher, executive director of research for Kaplan Test Prep, noted that some of the decline can likely be attributed to changing social media habits, as teens have migrated from Facebook to non-archival social media platforms like Snapchat.

“You cannot visit an applicant’s social media profile if you can’t locate them, and as one admissions officer shared with us, ‘Students are harder to find.’ They’ve gotten savvier in hiding or curating their social media footprints, even as they’ve become very comfortable with the notion of having a digital presence to begin with. By the same token, colleges have largely become comfortable, in theory, using social media to help them make admissions decisions,” said Alpher. “That said, in practice, the strong majority are sticking with the traditional elements of the application, like standardized test scores, GPA, letters of recommendation, and personal statements, which still overwhelmingly decide an applicant’s path. For most, these traditional factors provide enough useful information to make a decision, like it has for generations of their predecessors.”

And lest applicants think that what they post online can’t be held against them once they are already accepted, they should think again. Nearly one in 10 (nine percent) admissions officers say they had revoked an incoming student’s offer of admission  because of what they found on social media. This finding comes on the heels of Harvard University’s decision last year to revoke the acceptances of at least 10 students for posting highly offensive memes on a private Facebook group for incoming freshmen.

For a short video illustrating the results of the survey, visit here.

To schedule an interview about Kaplan’s survey results, please contact Russell Schaffer at russell.schaffer@kaplan.com or 212.453.7538.

*388 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 2017.

**914 high school students who prepared for the SAT®, ACT®, or PSAT® with a Kaplan course between October 2017 and February 2018 were polled via email.

Test names are the property of the respective trademark holders, none of whom endorse or are affiliated with this survey.

About Kaplan Test Prep

Kaplan Test Prep (www.kaptest.com) is a premier provider of educational and career services for individuals, schools and businesses. Established in 1938, Kaplan is the world leader in the test prep industry. With a comprehensive menu of online offerings as well as a complete array of print books and digital products, Kaplan offers preparation for more than 100 standardized tests, including entrance exams for secondary school, college and graduate school, as well as professional licensing exams for attorneys, physicians and nurses. Among those tests are the SAT®, PSAT®, ACT®, GRE®, GMAT®, LSAT®, MCAT®, NCLEX-RN® and bar exams. Kaplan also provides private tutoring and graduate admissions consulting services.

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