Social media can create a permanent record of inappropriate conduct or language that can haunt you going forward. Many adults have lost their jobs over inappropriate postings and stories abound of students and even teachers sharing inappropriate items on social media. You probably are aware of some from your own school. One would hope students who are applying to colleges would know better before hitting “post.” Of course, most high school students are very responsible about their social media presence, and we only hear about the ones whose lapse in judgement live on as lessons for others.

Do college admissions offices actually take the time to seek out information on prospective applicants in social media? According to Kaplan Test Prep, yes! A  survey of nearly 400 admissions officers found that “the percentage of admission officers who visit applicants’ social media pages to learn more about them has hit a record high of 40% — quadruple the percentage who did so in 2008,” when Kaplan first explored this issue. Googling an applicant to learn more about them has remained relatively stable over the past two years, at 29%.

What triggers admission officers to look beyond the traditional “Big Three” elements of a college application — GPA, standardized test scores, extracurriculars — and turn to Google, Facebook, and other sites for additional information?

Some contributing factors are positive:

  • Special talents: Students who are musicians, writers, models or poets will often invite admission officers to view their social media presence in their applications.
  • Award verification: There is no formal “fact-checking” process when students submit their applications. Colleges generally take at face-value whatever honors students list and the time commitments and leadership roles students state in their extracurricular activities and work experiences. However, a mention of a particularly distinguished award will sometimes trigger a search.
  • Scholarship applications: Students applying for special scholarships can come under greater scrutiny, as schools want to ensure those receiving the scholarships are fully deserving. Extra due diligence can come in the form of online checking.

However, admissions officers may be looking for negatives as well.

  • Verification of “Blemishes:” If an applicant mentions he or she has a criminal background or a record of disciplinary action, an admissions office may do some online digging to get more details.
  • Admissions Sabotage: Occasionally, college admissions officers are anonymously alerted to inappropriate social media postings. Admission officers will typically follow-up to verify any accusations. Inappropriate social media use can easily sink an otherwise stellar application.

The take-away for high school students is simple:

  • Scrub your current social media profile and make it squeaky clean before you begin the application process.
  • Think before you post! Ask yourself if this is something you would want an admission officer, an employer, or your parents to see.