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You Can Be an Idiot on Social Media and Still Get Into College

Admissions officers care more about their digital reputation than yours.

For years, high school students have been told to keep their social media profiles clean, or stay off social media altogether, if they want to hold on to the slimmest chance of getting into their college of choice. If you or someone you know has applied to college in the last decade, chances are you’ve heard the horror stories of well-groomed applicants rejected for advertising their affinity for alcohol, drugs, or general debauchery

But a new survey by Kaplan Test Prep suggests that admissions officers are not spending a lot of time digging into applicants’ social media presence. While 40 percent of admissions officials at 387 colleges surveyed by Kaplan said they had “visited an applicant's social networking page like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn to learn more about them,” compared with 10 percent in 2008, the vast majority of colleges–89 percent–said they were “rarely” examining people’s lives online. Only 2.7 percent said they poked around Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin “very often.”

When admissions staffers do look up applicants on social media, though, what they find is as likely to help a person’s chances of getting in as to hurt it. The same share of admissions officers who said that they discovered information that hurt an applicant  came across something that boosted the applicant's profile—37 percent. This might be a sign that savvy high-school seniors are heeding all that doomsday advice and using their social media profiles to burnish their personal brand. It may also be that they're doing their dirty work on platforms that admissions officers aren't as familiar with. Only 15 percent of teens surveyed by Piper Jaffray in the fall of 2015 said that Facebook was their most important social network, down from 42 percent in 2012. Teenagers were more likely to rate Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat as critical networks. 

Meanwhile, two-thirds of colleges said they checked their school’s mentions in online searches or on social media to gauge what people were saying “very often” or “somewhat often.” It seems college admissions officers care more about their reputation online than yours.

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