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Schools check college applicants' social media posts

College student Joy Troy checks a twitter page

College student Joy Troy checks a twitter page at the Annenberg School of Communication department at the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles. Photo Credit: AP (2009)

Think that photo you posted on Facebook is funny? Or your last Twitter post was clever?

They may be to you, and even your friends, but there's no telling whether the admissions officer holding your college application thinks so.

One in five colleges admitted researching prospective students through Internet search engines and/or social media sites, according to a survey conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research.

"It's a message that still needs to be reiterated again and again. Students are still not aware that public profiles will be looked at," said Nora Ganim Barnes, the center's director. "It's naive to assume they're not looking at this stuff."

College admissions officials are hesitant about saying they use the Web to look up candidates, Barnes said, and fewer are admitting to the practice since the center first began asking the question in 2008.

While the practice is more widespread, it likely does not apply to every applicant. Typically, such a look-see occurs when there's a decision between two applicants for one seat in a limited program or a highly visible scholarship, Barnes said.

"For example, if one applicant tweeted that the school was only a safety school and they didn't care if they got in, that might hurt them at this juncture," Barnes said.

Kristen Collins, director of undergraduate admissions at Adelphi University, said admissions officers shouldn't have to look at social media, though it has become more common for students themselves to encourage it and place portfolio or articles on the pages.

"So many people are moving to putting everything online, so often they will refer us to a website," Collins said. "The picture they're painting in the application is pretty complete, so we don't see the need to seek out their social media."

Students might want to consider using their Web pages to enhance their applications by replacing photos of themselves at parties, for example, with ones highlighting their volunteerism or civic engagement, Barnes added.

"Use it to your advantage," Barnes said. "You want to say, 'Come and look at me!' "

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