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Articles / Applying to College / Application Trigger Points

Application Trigger Points

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Jan. 14, 2016

Anyone who keeps up with the world of college admissions trends knows that it has become a somewhat common practice for admissions officers to use Google and Facebook to learn more about certain applicants. You might be saying, “Yeah, big deal. That’s old news, Dave. So what?”

Well, new information has emerged that reveals the kinds of so-called “trigger points” (a term related to those infamous “microaggressions,” but that’s blog fodder for another day) that pique the curiosities of admissions folks and drive them to Google and Facebook. This info comes to us from a 2015 Kaplan Test Prep survey.

Kaplan spokesperson, Russell Schaffer, sent me a few details about these surprising results yesterday, so they are fresh off the press:

Wanted to share the results of Kaplan Test Prep 2015 survey of college admissions officers that we just released this morning. Among the findings: The percentage of admissions officers who visit applicants’ social media pages to learn more about them has hit a record high of 40% — quadruple the percentage who did so in 2008, when Kaplan first explored this issue.


For context, out of those who do so, 89% say they do so “rarely” while only 11% say they do so “often”. And the percentage of admissions officers who say they have Googled an applicant to learn more about them has remained relatively stable over the past two years, at 29%.  


Prior to these new survey data coming out, I discussed this phenomenon on Admit This!, noting:


“… My personal opinion is that admissions officers don’t have enough time in their days to check out a ton of applicants on Facebook. The numbers are just too overwhelming. However, I do have a theory about which applicants might bear Facebook scrutiny. Maybe you’re one of them.


“You may want to take a close look at your college applications: your major essay(s), your short responses, and any  “Additional Information” comments you’ve made. How do you think your readers in admissions would see you? Do you come off as confident, original, unorthodox, or an arrogant smarty pants? My theory is that if you clearly stand out from the mountain of other applicants in a certain way, your admissions readers may take a quick detour to your Facebook page to try to confirm any first-blush reactions they have about you …


“… My theory also includes a caution: Beware promoting one type of personality in your college applications and a completely different one on Facebook. Don’t be a two-faced Facebooker. If you try to come off as being an intellectual in your college applications and then have Homer Simpson-like statements and images on your Facebook page . . . well, I don’t have to explain the consequences of that. Likewise, if you claim to belong to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and there are pictures of you chugging a yard of beer, well, again …”


Which brings us back to those trigger points Schaffer mentions:


But what are the triggers that prompt admissions officers to look beyond the traditional elements of the application (GPA, standardized test scores, extracurriculars) and turn to Google and Facebook? Admissions officers mentioned several trigger points, both positive and negative:– Interest in Talents: Some admissions officer say they will visit an applicant’s social media page — often by the applicant’s own invitation — if the applicant mentions a special talent, for example, such as being a musician, artist, poet, writer, or model. In fact, 42% of admissions officers reported an increase in such invitations compared to two year ago.

– Verification of Awards: Citation of particularly distinguished or noteworthy awards can sometimes trigger an admissions officer’s online search for independent verification; as one officer noted, something “out of the norm.”

– Criminal Records or Disciplinary Action: Some admissions officers say that if an applicant mentions they have a criminal background or a record of disciplinary action, they will do some online digging to get more details.

– Scholarships: Students applying for special scholarships can come under greater scrutiny, as schools want to ensure those receiving the scholarships are fully deserving; extra due diligence can come in the form of online checking.


– Admissions Sabotage: Anecdotally, admissions officers say they occasionally get anonymous tips about prospective students pointing them towards inappropriate behavior. They’ll sometimes dig online to see if it has merit.

And don’t forget about some of the potentially “positive” influences your social media can create for you, such as touting your connections. In last year’s survey of college admissions personnel, Kaplan discovered that 25% of respondents said that they had been pressured to admit students who didn’t meet enrollment standards “because of who that applicant was connected to.” Yikes. The EducationDive article went on to say:


About five years ago, the Chicago Tribune broke a scandal about clout-based admissions at the University of Illinois. The president of the university system, the chancellor of one of the campuses, and seven of the nine board of trustees members ultimately resigned in the aftermath. The Tribune showed, and a state panel later confirmed, that hundreds of students benefited from special consideration made because of their connections.


And so on. The bottom line appears to be that your social media (and search engine) profile(s) can be a two-edged sword. On the one hand, you should probably imagine that your mother is watching everything you post on the Internet. Remember this: Nothing lasts forever except what you send into cyberspace.


On the other hand, if you can engineer an image of worthiness, upstanding citizenry, and — especially — influential connections, then that could be a plus for you if you happen to come under the curious scrutiny of a motivated college admissions official. In other words, when negotiating the various options that the World Wide Web offers, keep in mind that there are many eyes upon you. You’ll probably be glad you did.




Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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