How many admissions officers are using the internet to screen applicants? What kind of online behavior affects a student’s admission to the college of their choice, and how can students prepare their online footprint for inspection? According to Kaplan Test Prep, who tracks such things, schools are “increasingly discovering information on Facebook and Google that negatively impact applicants’ acceptance chances.” In a 2012 survey, 27 percent of admissions officers said they use Google to screen applications, and 26 percent reported looking at Facebook pages. Google taps into not only Facebook, but a student’s activity on Twitter, Google Plus and personal online blogs. Use of online media among recruiters is even higher than admissions counselors, with 87 percent of colleges citing Facebook as one of their resources, 76 percent using Twitter, and 73 percent viewing a students’ YouTube clips. 

Privacy issues
Does looking at students’ online materials constitute an invasion of privacy? It’s easy to make a case that any material you have shared with the world via online publishing can no longer be called “private.” However, 69 percent of schools that have crafted a policy on the matter are declaring social media off-limits. That said, with only 15 percent of schools having any policy whatsoever, that gives the vast majority of college recruiters complete freedom to surf your internet trail.

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Online behavior that can affect your chances of admission
What kind of online behavior affects your chances of admission to the college of your choice? Photos with alcoholic beverages, hate speech, descriptions or videos of violent or unruly behavior, public nudity, mentions of illegal drugs, or a pattern of posts that suggest a student might not mesh well with a diverse community are going to cause a recruiter to think twice, according to the Kaplan survey. On the other hand, posts that reflect a diverse range of interest, passion about social and political issues, and showcase the student as a respectful, thoughtful person can boost his chances of admission.

Managing your online reputation
There are ways to manage your online footprint. Before submitting college applications (or internship applications), run your name and hometown through a few popular search engines and scan the first couple of results pages. Do your best to clean up anything negative that comes up.

Use the privacy settings on your social media platforms to control which posts and photos are public. You can remove yourself from searches altogether, or leave your profile searchable but make your content visible only to friends. View your profile as a member of the public to see how you will appear to outsiders. Note: You can hide other photos, but if your profile is searchable, your profile picture and cover photos need to be clean.

Set your profile so others can’t tag you in photos without your permission, and don’t allow yourself to be tagged in public photos that show you as anything but a fine, upstanding young citizen. 

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Blog posts and public forums are often searchable. If anything unflattering comes up, delete or edit those posts. Although it’s possible to locate deleted material online, college admissions counselors are rarely doing more than a quick skim of your activity. 

Managing a public image is an important lesson for incoming college students who will soon become young professionals. While only about a fourth of college admissions officers are using Google and social media to screen applicants, it is a common practice among employers. 

Lauren Haas is a writer who specializes in finding the fun! Lauren was the publisher of the St. Louis Area Family Gazette for eight years, and now writes freelance articles on St. Louis events and attractions, budget travel, arts and entertainment and fitness topics. Her work can be found at

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