By Meghan Meier
The issue of social media’s role in the college admissions process has gained much attention in recent years. In its 2016 study, Kaplan surveyed almost 400 admissions officers residing in the United States. The results found 40 percent of examinees do view applicants’ social media, but only 11 percent practice this method frequently.
For many colleges in Virginia, social media is not a determinant in the admissions process, according deans and assistant directors of admissions from colleges we spoke with. At the forefront, admissions representatives look at an applicant’s academic achievements, test scores and extracurricular activities to make a final decision. Investigating all applicants’ social media would be impossible due to time constraints and limited staff. Conversely, if applicants request that a college examine their profiles, admissions officers are inclined to do so.
So what important attribute has social media contributed to modern college admissions? It has changed how colleges recruit students, according to Chris Carl, assistant director of admissions at University of Mary Washington.
Chiefly, it has changed the way colleges market themselves. Rather than telling students what their image is, colleges are now showing it. “When we are marketing ourselves, we show people who we are versus telling people who we are,” says Michael Walsh, dean of admissions at James Madison University. “It is easy to show words, but if you can show pictures that back them up then that is worth a thousand words.”
Although a student’s social media is not a part of the admissions process, there is still the chance it might be seen not only by a college but possibly by future employers. The fact remains that students must always be mindful of what they create and post because not only are they building their digital footprint, they are also creating their online resume.
“When students start looking at colleges, they should make sure their social media is something that won’t embarrass their grandmother or themselves and would reflect positively on them because it is out there and there may be someone looking at it,” Walsh says.
But a student’s digital footprint is not just an online resume for potential employment—it is a representation of their identity. Using an alias as a smokescreen can harm your public image. Even though social media is not part of admissions, if a college does come across a student’s social media using a ridiculous name that is not their own, it could raise suspicion, Carl says.
Colleges are very cognizant of the fact that students are constantly using social media, which has changed how they converse with them. These digital platforms have taken the place of technology like the telephone, which has become a secondary option for students seeking information from admissions. Regardless of the type of social media, these platforms are now the start of conversations between student and college, which is a positive thing, says Amy Takayama-Perez, dean of admissions at George Mason University.
“There’s this great free tool that we can use to reach out to students, and we can do it in our offices,” Carl says.
Takayama-Perez agrees that social media has changed how colleges communicate and manage their outreach programs to connect with students; these digital platforms have become the vehicle for colleges to reach not only students but also their parents.
All in all, social media is a great instrument for students to connect with colleges and to build a broader portfolio of who they are as person and as a future employee. It is vital they always remain mindful of the choices they make and remain true to their identity. Once something gets published, students need to make sure the material they posted won’t come back to haunt them, Takayama-Perez says.