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Dec 14, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

Before social media was cool, college admissions officers checked grades, test scores, and the perfect essay. Now, in the 21st century, they check social media too.

About a quarter of college admissions officers say that they check applicants' social media profiles and accounts. What are they looking for? Anything questionable or inappropriate. 

Based on a recent report from Kaplan Test Prep, 25 percent of 364 college admissions officers said that use social media to inform admissions decisions. While that seems like a lot, that number is down from 40 percent just three years ago.

Why the decline? It's harder to find users' profiles. Kaplan reports that 52 percent of admissions officers explained that students are becoming more discerning about what they post on social media -- and they are getting savvier about hiding their presence on social media.

Yariv Alpher, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of research, said, “We’re seeing the result of combining trends here. On the one hand, students are savvier. They are more careful with what they post and are increasingly using more private social networks. In some cases they also create fake accounts that they only share with friends, but which are not easily attributed to them. On the other hand, admissions officers are increasingly conscious of the need to maintain students’ privacy, and are more inclined to use social media in a more targeted way. Regardless, social media remains an admissions factor for a significant number of colleges, so students should be mindful of what they share.”

This doesn't mean you can cut loose on social media. Applicants should make sure that their accounts are shipshape -- and should not post anything reckless or offensive.

It's still a useful tool. Last year, Harvard University rescinded 10 acceptance letters to students who had posted controversial memes on social media.

Your takeaway? Be good. Be kind. Pay attention to your profiles. You never know who's looking!

Read more about social media do's and don't's for college applicants and learn more about studies in social media


Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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