College admissions offices looking more at social media, but not so much in Kansas

As social media work their way ever more deeply into the fabric of teens’ social lives, college admissions offices throughout the country are scrutinizing the digital imprints of applicants more than ever before. But local universities, bound by policy, resources, or just lacking good reason, haven’t joined the growing trend.

Admissions personnel across the country are turning to social media to get a more intimate look at applicants at the same time as teens are sharing more about themselves and their lives online than ever. In a national survey of college admissions officers by Kaplan Test Prep, 29 percent reported that they have Googled prospective students, and 31 percent have checked Facebook and other social media pages of applicants.

Those are the highest numbers yet since Kaplan started asking the question in 2008, when just 10 percent of respondents said they had checked the Facebook pages of applicants. Students, for their part, don’t seem terribly worried either way. Fifty percent surveyed by Kaplan said they were “not at all concerned,” and another 27 percent said they were “not too concerned,” about the prospect of an admissions officer Googling them.

Natalie Konkel, a guidance counselor at Lawrence High School, said social media use among students is “more on our radar now” than in the past, though counselors don’t have routine conversations with students about what posts could mean for their college and job prospects. However students do receive instruction on responsible social networking from the school resource officer, and individual teachers might bring it up in class as well, Konkel said.

Those applying to KU probably need not fret about Twitter posts or their spring break pictures on Facebook. Lisa Pinamonti Kress, director of undergraduate admissions at KU, said social media posts and profiles are “absolutely not” considered in the admissions process at the university. The only criteria KU admissions looks at are set by the Kansas Board of Regents and are limited to standardized test scores and high school performance.

Graduate programs at the university are more free to set their own criteria and processes for admitting students. Dee Steinle, administrative director of the KU School of Business MBA program, said that checking the social media profiles of applicants is “not part of our general procedure” and it has never led to turning down an applicant, but neither has the school ruled it out as an option.

“If somebody gave us a reason to check that out, we certainly would in the application process,” she said. “At this point we haven’t made it part of our mainstay, but maybe we will.”

Once in the KU MBA program, students get training in good digital practices. In the past, others have brought social media issues of enrolled students to the school’s attention. Administrators are not shy about approaching students to make sure nothing they do in their digital lives has consequences in their professional or academic lives.

“As we tell them, it’s not the end of the world,” Steinle said. “But let’s get this fixed.”

Other universities in the area told the Journal-World that they don’t check social media in the undergraduate admissions process, including Washburn University in Topeka and Baker University in Baldwin City.

“I would say fundamentally we do not,” said Kevin Kropf, director of admissions at Baker. “It’s never really come up. No one’s even joked about it. Our focus is solely on their academic record and their extracurricular activities. Social media doesn’t really fit into that.”

Plus, Kropf’s staff has said they don’t have time to peruse Twitter and Facebook profiles. “Can I say with 100 percent certainty that no one has ever looked someone up? No,” Kropf said. But by and large his staff is too small to allow for looking beyond the college application itself, he said.

Perhaps an even more fundamental reason why schools in the area don’t keep tabs on the social media doings of applicants has to do with geography and the missions of local institutions. As Kropf points out, few schools in the region admit fewer than 50 percent of their applicants. The schools that do comb Google, Facebook and Twitter are likely those elite colleges looking for a reason not to admit someone.

“There’s some great colleges and universities, but…there’s not an Ivy League school in Kansas,” Kropf said.