Why Ivy League Admissions Officers Have No Choice But To Google College Applicants
According to The Center for Education Reform, there are 30,000 public high schools, 11,850 private high schools and 1,450 catholic high schools in the United States producing an estimated 3.2 million graduates in 2012.
These high schools annually generate 43,300 valedictorians and 43,300 salutatorians. The number of high school students finishing in the top 10% of their class now stands at 320,000.
These numbers cast justifiable concern on how the nation’s elite colleges make their acceptance decisions among so many smart, talented and qualified students.
In 2013, the eight Ivy League schools accepted a combined total of 14,000 freshmen selected from a pool of 250,000 applicants. The numbers are not much different at the so-called “Ivy-esque” schools, where some admitted fewer students than their Ivy League counterparts. According to The New York Times, Stanford accepted 5.69 percent of its more than 38,800 applicants; the University of Chicago accepted 8.8 percent of its more than 30,300 applicants; Vanderbilt accepted 11.97 percent of its more than 31,000 applicants; and Duke accepted 12.93 percent of its more than 31,000 applicants. The University of Southern California reported receiving more than 47,000 applications this past year. That’s 10,000 more students than just two years ago.
The burden of reviewing this growing influx of applications has fallen squarely on the backs of college admissions counselors. Colleges reported that in 2011 the average admissions counselor was responsible for reading 622 applications, up from an average of 359 in 2005. Yet, college application data collection techniques have not kept pace with the growth in applications received. There is simply not enough granularity within the applicant data for college admissions counselors to properly vet such a large pool of similarly qualified applicants.
While not all applicants will meet an institutions’ minimum eligibility requirements, a conservative estimate is that 70% of the applications received are worthy of serious consideration. An Ivy League admissions officer is quoted as saying “some 70 percent of kids who apply are qualified to come to school here, and we have space for one in ten. We can be as choosy as we like. It almost always comes down to whether or not you’re a likeable person.”
For many college applicants and their parents, this analysis points to a painfully obvious conclusion. We live in a digital age and many high school students today document much of their lives online. Whether colleges admit to it or not, one can subsume that in order to fill the void of actionable data delivered by the Common App, colleges admissions counselors are increasingly referring to social media sites to gain insight into their applicant pool. According to the most recent Kaplan Test Prep survey of 350 admissions officers, more than 25 percent of school officials said they had looked up applicants on Facebook or Google. And of those officers screening applicants' social media profiles, 35 percent said they found something that negatively impacted an applicant's chances of getting in, nearly tripling from the year before.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google+, Instagram, Vine and other social media platforms and online blogs provide college admissions officers with a readily available window to assess the applicant’s transparency, credibility, maturity, genuineness and likeability. Access to this information is fast, easy and anonymous. Without doubt, this trend is unfair to the applicant who likely has viewed these platforms as a casual outlet for private interactions with friends. Nevertheless, what is shared online has no half-life and is accessible by anyone with an interest in finding you. And find you they will.
As college applicants are becoming increasingly aware of potential virtual stalks by college admissions counselors, some have opted for a full social media lockdown or have simply changed the name on their Facebook profile. The risk of this approach is that colleges could rightly conclude that the lack of a social media presence means the applicant has something to hide. Moreover, if colleges are looking then that applicant has missed a golden opportunity to make a strong, positive impression upon the admissions counselor.
Just because admissions officers are looking at an applicant’s online profile doesn't mean they're necessarily searching for red flags either. They are likely looking to find actionable reasons to take one applicant over another. Therefore, an applicant’s online presence should be optimized to remove questionable posts and photos and then enhanced to showcase and expand upon the same interests and activities they chose to highlight in the Common App and application essays.
College applicants should be embracing social media as a vehicle to set themselves apart from the other qualified candidates who are vying for acceptance into their dream school. Social media should be viewed as a virtual resume for the world to see. Given the large number of applicants to this nation’s most competitive colleges and universities, it is imperative that serious applicants consider their digital presence as a natural extension of their college application.
This post originally appeared at Social Assurity LLC. Copyright 2013.