Social Media and the Undergraduate Application Process

 | April 30,2012 09:54 am IST

So, stage one of the undergraduate process has begun. Youve zeroed in on a couple of institutions abroad and have your application forms ready, neatly filled out, ready to be posted to the colleges and universities on your list.


One word of caution though: when a student applies to university abroad, it is natural to expect that their academic certificates, standardized test scores and other factors such as extra-curricular activities will be closely scrutinized by admissions officers to see whether they make the grade.


However, did you know that an applicants profile on various social media platforms such as Facebook, Orkut and Twitter are also sometimes reviewed by admissions officers? Anything considered inappropriate, racy or vulgar by college authorities can potentially jeopardize chances of acceptance.


Anant Sachdeva found out the hard way when he posted a few photos of the wild party he had gone to on Facebook. Sachdeva had no idea that he was jeopardizing his chances of getting into a top university in the United States. They were harmless photos really, laments Sachdeva, Just a few of us getting drunk and doing crazy stuff. A few weeks later, Sachdeva received a curt rejection letter from the university saying his application was not suitable for admission.


Facebook has become a vital source for admissions professionals looking for background information on prospective students. In a recent survey of admissions officers at 359 colleges and universities, Kaplan Test Prep revealed that 24 percent of respondents reported using Facebook or other social networking pages to research an applicant. This is a significant increase from 2008, when only 10 percent reported using social media as a source during the admissions process.


Of the admissions officers who did tap into these online tools to learn more about prospective students, 12% said that what they found negatively impacted the applicants admissions chances. Offenses cited included essay plagiarism, vulgarities in blogs, alcohol consumption in photos and illegal activities.


Theres definitely a growing acceptance by college admissions officers of the practice of checking applicants digital footprints, but for context, these checks are not routine and tend to happen because of a specific trigger in a particular situation, like an anonymous tip or a posting on an online forum, said Jeff Olson, vice president of research, Kaplan Test Prep. That said, college applicants need to be particularly mindful of what they post, and may even want to search online to make sure their digital footprint is clean.


The growing role of social media in the college admissions process poses potential pitfalls, but also many pluses for applicants, said Olson. For example, a colleges official admissions page on Facebook allows it to reach prospective students in an environment in which teens are comfortable or expert. They can take virtual campus tours, learn about academic programs and find out important admissions statistics like the average SAT or ACT scores for accepted students.


So, what are some of the things one should keep in mind when posting on Facebook or any other social media platform?


According to Jay Vikram Bakshi, CEO, Digiqom Ventures, a social media conversations consultancy: There used to be a popular saying what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Now, what happens in Vegas stays in Facebook, Orkut and Twitter. And it stays for eternity. It doesnt matter when you delete or change. If its been posted once, it will find itself somewhere on cyber space. Its a good idea, therefore, to be conscious of the long-term effect of social media conversations and review posts, pictures and comments on blogs and social networks as admissions committee typically look out for deviant or radical behaviour. Bakshi has been advising global educational institutes on their social media strategies right from brand promotion to executive placements, admissions and alumni.


1. Make sure that you are prepared and are giving your college application your best shot. Make sure your privacy settings are adjusted on your social media accounts and you limit access to people you dont know. At the same time, make sure you dont post inappropriate content as your account may be checked by someone who does not know you at all.


2. When using social media, always make sure to use common sense and present yourself in a responsible manner, not poorly. While admissions officers do not spend their time creating fake Facebook profiles and spying on you, they can follow up a tip-off about inappropriate student conduct online. Often, schools have to investigate and offers of admission may be revoked.


Kavita Singh, CEO of FutureWorks Consulting, a company providing admissions guidance to Indian students, sums up: It is very important to ensure that one posts relevant and intelligent content in their own social media profiles. Many schools are scanning the social media profiles and activity of applicants before awarding them with coveted interview letters. Therefore, not only is it highly useful to be active on social media to gain knowledge and insights about admissions, but it is also equally important to paint a smart and responsible picture on ones own social profiles.


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