New Year's Resolution for College Applicants

January 1, 2015

This year Cornerstone Reputation set out on a mission: to collect current and detailed information about the effect of social media and online searches of applicants on the college admissions process at competitive schools. Why? So we could inform parents and help spark dialogues with teens on why their online reputations matter for getting into college. We invite you as parents to consider the safety of your teen’s future as an element of teen online safety and equip you with the following findings from our 2014 Undergraduate Admissions Survey Report for family dinner table conversations, New Year’s resolution-fodder for your teens, and sharing with fellow parents at your next sports games, and parent teacher nights.

The Cornerstone Undergraduate Admissions Survey was distributed to the top 100 national universities and the top 100 liberal arts colleges around the United States, as ranked by the US News and World Report 2015 College Rankings.

Parents, check out some quick facts and family conversation starters from our survey:

  • In 2012-2013 admissions season 27% of admissions officers searched applicants online.
  • In 2013-2014 admissions season 40% of admissions officers searched applicants online.
  • 59% claim that other admissions officers at their school utilize online searches.
  • More than half of admissions officers Googled applicants and used social media to search applicants.
  • 44% found content that left a negative impression on them about the applicant.
  • 46% found content that positively impacted their impression of an applicant.

The following admissions officer quotes are powerful for teens to hear:

  • "So start being mature early. I'd love to say that office policies will prevent admissions people from looking at this (candidate online) information, but they won't. Curiosity is overwhelming."
  • “We search for info that will clarify the student's feelings about/interactions with our institution or current students or applicants.”
  • “I don't go out of my way to search for an applicant, but if they are involved with any of the college's online communities then applicants can be looked at in an online setting more easily. Also if they mention the college in an online post then we have programs set up to notify us when we are mentioned online.”

Just like when you search for people online, reasons for researching applicants varied from verification purposes to “gut feeling” or “personal curiosity.” The most common reason, cited by 63% of the population who answered the question, was a desire for clarification of an aspect of an application. 15% searched for clarification about something from an outside submission, such as a teacher or employer recommendation. Many admissions officers are also engaging with an applicant search online if the student directs him/her to online content, if there is a “red flag” in the student’s application, or even to verify the student’s genuine interest in the school.

Share with your teens that another instance in which admissions officers may search for an applicant online is when a student engages with the social media outreach efforts of the school. Colleges are engaging with students on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Colleges — and in some cases individual admissions officers — will “friend” or “follow” students they have met at college fairs, on campus tours or at admissions interviews. This institutional, as well as personal outreach, is beneficial for both parties, as it can help a student get to know a college better and help an admissions officer determine the interest level of the student, an important factor in the competitive admissions landscape. An unintentional consequence; however, can be a student unknowingly relaying a less-than-appealing impression or even an admissions officer who is not actively searching coming across information that is cause for concern.

Talk to your teen about the ways admissions officers said teens can be noticed online in a positive way: personal blog posts, well written articles in the school or independent newspapers, mentions of volunteer work on an organization’s webpage, citations for academic achievement or athletic achievement, and work that a student has done online such as building their own website.

With essentially 1 in 2 admissions officers conducting online searches, it is important to talk to your teens about where admissions officers are searching, how they perform these searches, and what types of content they are seeking. Dialogue about the powerful things your teens could be doing online that could boost their chances of getting into their dream colleges: general displays of talent, interests, and passions such as a student-made video, visual arts electronic portfolio, musical talent, published work, a positive news article about the student from local, national, or international news outlet, and displays of activism can be positive and impressive content.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.

Written by

Carolynn Crabtree

Carolynn Crabtree is a Princeton University alumnus and the President and Cofounder of Cornerstone Reputation, an educational company committed to empowering students through tools and knowledge that help them understand the impact of their online presence to ensure the time they spend online contributes to a positive reputation in today's digitally interconnected world.