10% of Admission Counselors…..

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Concepts, Ethics, Facebook, Higher Education, Research, Social Media, Thoughts | Posted on 09-22-2008


Follow me on a journey… a journey of bad data, stretched conclusions, and mysterious results.

On Sept. 18th, Kaplan released a survey (remember this one?) that “at ‘top schools’, one out of ten admissions officers has visited an applicant’s social networking Web site as part of the admissions decision-making process.” The survey was conducted with a whopping 320 admission counselors.  [Link]

I caught the story on Sept. 19th when the Chronicle Wired Campus posted the results [Link].  They state that “One in 10 admissions officers has looked at an applicant’s social-networking profile”, which is a much broader statement than the original survey. Kaplan notes that they looked at an applicant’s social-networking profile as part of the admissions decision-making process. Reporting Fail #1.

And here’s Reporting Fail #2: The Chronicle article states that “The company surveyed 320 institutions among U.S. News & World Report’s and Barron’s top 500.”  Look back at the Kaplan article to see that the methodology “for the 2008 survey, 320 admissions officers from the nation’s top 500 schools – as compiled from U.S. News & World Report’s “Ultimate College Directory” and Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges – were surveyed by telephone between July-Aug 2008.”

So unless the Chronicle can prove or reasonably assume that they only surveyed 1 worker at each school, this statement is incorrect and unreasonably stretches the data across a wider sample.  We have 10 counselors at Butler. Kaplan could have called 32 schools and interviewed 10 people at each.  We don’t know, because it does not say.  But what we do know is that there is not a possible way to interview someone from all 500 schools when only 320 people were interviewed.

I admit that I should have clicked back to the original Kaplan press release to read more, but I took the Chronicle post for what it was worth, and commented “10% of counselors? Hardly an issue. Most of those who looked were probably only there because the student requested to be their friend.”  I can think of several instances where my co-workers have had prospective students friend them on Facebook, myself included.  And most of the time, I look at their profile to see who they are.

Fast-forward to September 21st on Slashdot, which a member reports “10 Percent of Colleges Check Applicants’ Social Profiles” [Link].  The schools involved are now only “prestigious” ones.  Following this article is a very heated discussion about this, over 300 comments at the time of this writing.

So we’ve gone from 32 out of 320 admission officers saying they have looked at a social networking profile of an applicant as a part of the admissions decision-making process, to 320 institutions being surveyed and 10% saying that they look at social networking profiles, to now…. 10% of colleges checking social profiles.

I’ve given the office a pretty basic explanation of how social media fits into the admission process. If you do it for one, you must do it for all.   And since you can’t do it for all, then just don’t do it.   Seems to work fine so far.  But when a student reaches out to be my friend on Facebook, then I friend them. And they usually ask me questions, because that is how they communicate.   It’s probably easier for me since I don’t read apps or make decisions, but I know our staff does a great job at evaluating the applicant the same as everyone else, and based solely on the materials included in the app.

How does your school handle all of this?

Comments posted (13)

Granted, I don’t work in admissions, but the social networking trap befalls us in residence life, as well. Our general unwritten rule here is to not add someone as a friend on Facebook unless requested, and even then, to not really go beyond adding them when it comes to actually viewing their profile, lest we see something we don’t want to see. It comes in pretty handy, though, when dealing with emotional distress situations (it’s amazing what students update their status with). I make it my own personal goal to not be a creepster. Can’t always say the same for my colleagues!

Erik – I was an RA at college when Facebook came to campus and was the President of Illinois State Resident Assistant Association at the time. We had some very good discussions about all of the new knowledge as it pertained to residence life and handling conflict/crisis.

Those first few months were rough for everyone involved, that’s for sure. I think kids now have more realistic expectations about what might happen if they put something online for the world to see.

As a counselor, if a student friends me, I look at their profile and most of the time, add them. But, most of the time these students have already applied and/or committed to FC, so I’m not worried about what they post affecting my judgment on their admission. It’s funny though, I was at the doctor the day the news was talking about the Kaplan study and when my physician found out what I did he immediately mentioned that he heard on the news that some colleges look at students social profiles to make admission decisions.

Well said, Brad. I don’t add students as friends; I’m not your friend, I’m your advisor/counselor/instructor. There’s a line there. I have students on my friends list, but they’re generally former students with whom I’ve decided to remain in touch. (And I’m glad I have!)

What a striking misuse of data! It would be nice to see the original methodology, but to say 10% of colleges check social profiles is a huge stretch. What’s worse is a statement like that implies that this is policy at those schools. No wonder people are outraged and paranoid about the admissions process.

Truth be told, Facebook offers more than adequate privacy protections to keep colleges from peeping at user profiles, if the students use them. If students “friend” a counselor at a college, they should know that that new friend will look at their profile when they accept the request. Could they be so naive to think otherwise?

Way to scrutinize those stats! Something that always concerned me was having prospective students see too much personal info on the counselors! It’s the virtual version of running into applicants in bars when they’re on their overnight visit to campus (can and DOES happen in New Orleans where you can enter bars at 18!)

I’m only talking about facebook here, as I don’t know much about all the other social networking sites . . . but isn’t it the case that unless you are friends with somebody on facebook, nobody can see anything beyond your photo and name? An admissions counselor could look somebody up and all they would see is a thumbnail sized photo and the student’s name, which they already know. If the photo is very compromising, maybe that’s a problem . . . but otherwise, who cares? I think Brad is right, it’s only when prospective students start adding people as friends that admissions counselors might check out their profile. I don’t see that as a reason for paranoia among applicants! If you’ve got stuff on your profile that could affect your admission, don’t ask the decision makers to become friends and give them access to that!

I just can’t believe that many admissions people have time to look at social networking sites while making decisions. What a misuse of data!

I saw this, but thought it’s a moot point for any state school like mine that is open admission. Doesn’t matter what funky stuff the student puts on their profile — he/she will get in.

That said, I won’t be surprised to see more educational efforts to college students about cleaning up their profiles before looking for a job.

We’ve checked out students on SNS’s before hiring them as interns. Maybe these schools want to teach students a lesson early.

I’ve also heard now of paid SNS consultants, i.e. students who are part of the college’s network and can usually see other members’ profiles at the school. Companies pay these students to look up job applicants and give ‘em the goods on their reputation.

@Chris – definitely. I friend all of my student bloggers and have kept in touch with those who have graduated or aren’t blogging but are still around. I try to use them to keep me young. :)

@J. Todd – Students definitely need to learn how to use privacy settings if they are at all concerned!

@Kathyrn – oh no!! haha, I bet that gets awkward.

@alison – Yes, unless you are in the same network as that person, you can’t see anything but a picture. And even if you are in the same network, proper privacy settings can be implemented. I am surprised at how many students in the Butler network leave their profiles wide open, and it’s worse for HS students.

@Paul – No doubt, I’d love some extra hours in the day :)

@DW – Checking out students is a great idea, and a necessary step for me to hire a blogger. While I do basically pick my kids ‘straight off the street’, nearly every one I hire I’ve been able to peek at their SM profiles on the net and see if they are a student we want to represent Butler.

Thanks for the comments everyone! Great thoughts.

serves me right for cramming in my morning reads! thanks for the heads up


This is so necessary…there is so much hype about these reports and rumours. This is one of the issues with a ‘shft’ in media, where untruths and opinion are rapidly becoming ‘news’ I am glad that there are people out there like you Brad who dig a bit deeper and search for fact!

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