Social media in admissions

Colleges must establish clear guidelines regarding social media and application decisions.

More college admissions officers may be looking at applicants’ social media profiles, the New York Times reported earlier this month.

According to the Nov. 9 article, new research from Kaplan Test Prep suggests that online inspection of potential college students is growing. Christine Brown, executive director of K-12 and college prep programs at Kaplan Test Prep, told the Times that including social media activity in the admissions process “is becoming more ubiquitous and less looked down upon.”

A Kaplan telephone questionnaire this year found that 31 percent of college admissions officers said they visited an applicant’s social media account to learn about them — a 5-point increase from last year.

As social media use continues to grow, it seems inevitable that more colleges will take the profiles, posts and even photos of applicants available online into account.

The use of social media profiles in a formal decision-making process should concern everyone — even those who are careful with what they put online. Mistaken identity or false information can result in unfair decisions. Information regarding political or other affiliations may change an officer’s mind about an applicant, even without him or her realizing it. Even more troublesome, keeping information like race or religion private may no longer be possible.

Important questions must be answered before colleges begin denying applicants based on social media activity. Will social media profiles play a formal role in the decision process? If so, what specific criteria will be used to judge an applicant’s profile? And will that criteria be made public?

To ensure a fair admissions process, colleges should get ahead of this trend and establish clear polices now.