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Social Media Images Can Hurt College Applicants

High school seniors are working hard on their college applications to give admissions officers a sense of who they are and why they want to attend their respective schools. But it's the image students convey on social media that colleges say is increasingly affecting the decision process — and not in a good way.

The latest survey by Kaplan Test Prep found that 35 percent of admissions officers discover online material that negatively impacts an applicant's chances, up from 12 percent in last year's survey.

While the percentage of admissions officers who used Facebook to check out an applicant remained relatively steady at 26 percent, more are using Google in their research (about 27 percent, up from 20 percent the year before). This likely reflects an interest beyond Facebook to look at students' presence on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, and other platforms, according to Kaplan officials.

Research by Schools.com shows as many as 62 percent of admissions officers say student profiles on Facebook have generally helped them get accepted, while 38 percent said it hurt their chances.

Just what are admissions officers finding that's offensive? Essay plagiarism, vulgarities in blogs, alcohol consumption in photos, things that made them "wonder," and "illegal activities," Kaplan reports.

While most colleges don't look beyond the official applications and colleges have few policies about reviewing a student's digital footprint, Kaplan and other college experts encourage prospective students to be aware of what they post publicly and consider cleaning up their social media pages during application season.

For more on this trend and guidance for students on how to manage their online profiles, read Bad Online Behavior Jeopardizes College Plans. Also check out The Savvy Intern's online reputation management steps or these tips from Kaplan.

The 2012 Kaplan survey polled 350 admissions officers by telephone between July and September 2012.


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