Jarred Stancil: Admissions officers aren’t social media cops

When I first made Facebook and Twitter accounts, my parents warned me to watch what I posted because it could be screened by future employers and schools. I never paid much attention, assuming colleges would be more interested in my academic performance than my social life.

I’ve said this plenty of times before in my life, but a recent study confirms it yet again: I should have listened to my parents.

A recent Kaplan Test Prep study found that 31 percent of university admissions officers peruse applicants’ social media accounts. Nearly the same percentage even went as far as to say that what they found there negatively affected some applicants’ chances.

A GW spokesperson told me admissions representatives here don’t scour applicants’ Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. For the thousands of high school students preparing their applications this month, that should be a relief.

But the fact that this practice is being carried out around the country raises untold questions and potential problems. Is this screening universal for all applicants, or is it only used for those who are on the borderline between waitlisted or rejected?

Does screening social media profiles give some applicants a free pass, while punishing those who might have stellar grades and extracurriculars but a questionable online presence? How does this affect people who choose not to have Facebook or Twitter accounts?

College admissions is stressful enough for a 17-year-old. There are financial worries, fears of leaving home and wondering whether you’re good enough for college. High school students shouldn’t also have to fear the implications of an expletive-laden tweet or a sarcastic Facebook post about how much they hate their chemistry homework.

This is the perfect time to make transparency the norm in all aspects of the application process.

We’ve all heard the spiel at information sessions at various colleges that admissions reps consider high school GPAs, SAT scores and essays, just to name a few components of an application. Students are informed outright about these obvious factors.

But when it comes to whether or not admissions officers stalk internet profiles, students are left to assume. Granted, it’s our prerogative to be smart on the internet. But universities aren’t internet cops, judges or juries.

If colleges want to tout the academic prowess of their student body, they should enter the application review process looking for the most academically sound candidates, regardless of how they conduct themselves in their private lives. Yes, college students are often irresponsible online. And that’s not excusable.

But questionable or illegal activity outside the classroom will come back to bite those people eventually without schools getting involved and rejecting students from enrollment. For better or for worse, posting incriminating pictures on the internet and providing personal commentary on Twitter is becoming the norm. Colleges can’t reasonably expect to attract a strong class academically if they punish students for something that is increasingly part of the mainstream.

Besides, it is blatantly wrong to choose a less gifted student with a spotless cyber presence over a more gifted one with questionable tweets. That doesn’t help any university improve its stature.

In light of last month’s admissions office debacle at GW – where top leaders admitted that admissions officers had been misleading students into thinking that the University is need-blind – you’d think other schools would want to level with students about all factors that go into making admissions decisions.

The writer is a sophomore majoring in international affairs.

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