Students curate the way they present themselves in a college application very carefully, given how high the stakes are. But can this meticulously crafted picture shatter at the hands of an irresponsible Facebook post or a fib about community service hours? In this blog post, we set out to explain the degree to which colleges research students beyond the information presented in their application.

 

Social Media

 

In the digital age, most college-age students have grown up with the adage that “whatever you post on the Internet stays there forever.” With so many warnings about potential employers passing over students for questionable posts on social media, many students accordingly wonder if colleges scope out your social media presence as well. Can one profanity-laden rant on your Facebook page cost you admission to your dream school?

 

The answer: theoretically, yes. In practice, probably not. Social media evaluation practices vary greatly from school to school – according to a report released by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 23% of colleges admit to researching potential students via search engines, and 17% via social networking. However, other colleges, such as Saint Joseph’s College, ardently deny any evaluation of social media in the admissions process.

 

With an increase in the role social media plays in college’s outreach and recruiting efforts, it seems reasonable that it would begin to factor into admissions as well. Because the students a school admits serve as representations of the school itself, adcoms will likely be reluctant to admit a student who publicly displays profanity, depictions of illegal activity, or other offensive content.

 

There’s really no way to know for sure if your dream college polices social media: many schools have no set or publicized policy on the practice, and even those who do may not necessarily adhere to it. Even if your college of choice professes to evaluate students’ social media pages, it’s unlikely that they’ll do so for every single applicant.

 

Though the odds may be strongly in your favor (in reality, there’s a miniscule chance a college will actually look at your Facebook), it’s generally safer to be careful about what you post and how you present yourself online. Though schools may not have the time, resources, or inclination to check out your social media presences, many other important figures, like scholarship boards or potential employers, are more likely to. Maintaining a professional social media presence, or at least a private one, is probably your best bet.

 

Due Diligence on Applications

 

As much as you might like to, changing grades and test scores on applications is impossible  – transcripts are usually sent directly from your high school to the colleges you’re applying to, and test scores are sent straight from the testing agency. How you report your extracurriculars and awards, however, is entirely up to you. Given this freedom, some students may be tempted to embellish their accomplishments a bit.

 

The general wisdom when it comes to dishonesty on applications is that if it’s inconsequential enough that colleges won’t bother verifying it, there’s no point lying about it, because it won’t have a significant impact on your admissions decision; if it’s important enough that colleges will likely seek to verify it, getting caught in a lie can be disastrous.

 

For the small things that students might be tempted to lie about – how many hours they devoted to a particular community service organization, for example  – colleges are very unlikely to make the effort to confirm these figures. At the same time, though, exaggerations of this sort have a minimal impact on your chances of being admitted; a borderline student’s 50 extra community service hours won’t push her over the edge into the “admitted” pool.

 

On the other hand, lying about major things, like national awards or club presidencies, will likely not only get you caught, but also torpedo your chances at admission. If a student indicates they’ve won a major award, colleges will probably take the time to confirm as much. Even if adcoms don’t catch the lie before admitting you, you run the risk of being outed at any point in your four years – why enter college with that sort of guillotine hanging over your head? For school-related extracurriculars, colleges cross-reference the activities you listed on your common app with counselor and teacher recommendations. If significant discrepancies are found, you’re in trouble.

 

Speaking with Recommenders

 

Most students likely think that recommenders aren’t involved in your admissions process at all beyond the scope of the letter they write for you. This is usually the case, but not always. Colleges looking to know more about a student or who have a concern about something a recommender has written will occasionally get in direct contact with a recommender. Chances are, since you’ve selected your recommenders for the personal relationship you share with them, you probably don’t have to worry about any unflattering information coming out.

 

Because of the private nature of recommendation letters, though, you should be careful about selecting recommenders who would have only positive things to say about you. If you had a teacher in whose class you performed well, but in which you often got in trouble, it’s probably best to avoid asking for a recommendation. Even if said teacher writes a flattering letter, they may be less complimentary if an admissions officer asks them directly.

 

In addition, it is for precisely this reason that you should avoid asking for recommendations from figures that seem impressive but that you don’t know very closely, such as local politicians or an alumnus family friend. Such figures may be able to cobble together a decent letter of recommendation, but if they’re asked to speak extemporaneously on your behalf, their lack of knowledge will likely shine through, and that in turn reflects poorly on you.

 

For all the care and effort that goes into crafting your college application, the idealized image you seek to present can be marred by unprofessional conduct on social media or a serious lie on your application. Colleges receive a lot of applications, and most make fairly limited fact-checking efforts; in general, only the top colleges will check in with recommenders or make serious efforts to verify portions of your application, as these are the schools with the most vigorous application evaluation processes. In any case, though, it’s in your interest to be on your best behavior senior year (and all of high school, for that matter); with the confidence that no ugly social media secrets or misconduct in class will come back to bite you, you can rest easy.

 

Anamaria Lopez

Anamaria Lopez

Managing Editor at CollegeVine Blog
Anamaria is an Economics major at Columbia University who's passionate about sharing her knowledge of admissions with students facing the applications process. When she's not writing for the CollegeVine blog, she's studying Russian literature and testing the limits of how much coffee one single person can consume in a day.
Anamaria Lopez