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The Social Media Arms Race in College Applications

One year ago I wrote about Facebook becoming the new resume, and this week we got some fresh data from Kaplan to verify the trend.


This year over a quarter of the 350 surveyed college admission officers said that they include Facebook profiles (26%) or Google search results (27%) in their applicant evaluations. Even more interesting, 35% of them found content that negatively impacted the chances of applicants to get accepted. This number is up by 23% from 12% in last year’s survey.

Now, does this mean that students are still getting more and more careless about what they share online or do college admission officers get smarter in digging up those posts and pictures? Overall, the number of officers checking Facebook stayed the same, the number of those checking Google went from up by 7%, from 20% to now 27%.

According to ReadWriteWeb students are getting smarter about hiding their potentially compromising posts ahead of the admission process. Some setup clean profiles, some change their name until they get accepted. So, where does this 23% increase come from?

At the moment only 15% of the colleges that took part in the survey have a social media policy regarding the application process. Of those that have a policy, 69% said the policy prohibited admissions officers from visiting applicants’ pages – still leaving the vast majority of admissions officers with the flexibility to act at their own discretion.

So maybe the increased use of Google in the research process is part of it. As RWW points out, Facebook has become a place that parents and grandparents hang around, thus teens are looking for new places to be amongst themselves like YouTube, Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr. All three of them have the basic functions they need for the same social experience: picture hosting and sharing, comments and following each others updates.

The content on these sites is also searchable by Google whereas Facebook content is only accessible from inside the social network. Hence pictures and content that is located outside of Facebook is even easier to find for admission officers.

And I am pretty sure that the overall numbers will again rise in next year’s survey leading to an increased arms race between students, parents and admission officers. I can already see some interesting opportunities for startups in this space for both sides of the table.

On the one hand, you could make a business in white washing student profiles ahead of the admission or even setup a service that proactively curates all content of your child as soon as they get connected on the Internet.

On the other hand, you could build a service for college admission officers that tracks exactly that kind of white washing, tracking and re-creating the “true” identity of the applicant.

Sounds creepy? Agreed. But looking how far this whole process has already evolved, I think it’s only a matter of time until the scenario described might turn into reality.

Picture via Shutterstock

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