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Social media may prove to be a valuable tool for college admissions officers

(Alice Zhang/Daily Bruin)

By Srikanth Raguraman

February 10, 2020 10:56 pm

Social media typically represents what a person wants to show about themselves.

But sometimes, it’s also what they don’t want to be seen as.

Kaplan Test Prep administered a survey that was made public Jan. 13, reporting that roughly 36% of college admissions officers look at the social media accounts of university applicants. This is a marked increase from the reported 25% last year and an indication of the rising relevance of social media in society.

Online posts are public information and easily searchable, making them fair game for college admissions officers.

When hopeful students apply to colleges, many don’t realize that admissions officers would consider anything beyond what’s included in their applications. However, it’s in universities’ best interests to look at their candidates as holistically as possible.

After all, they aren’t accepting an application – they’re accepting the person behind it.

UCLA and universities nationwide not only have the ability to check applicants’ social media profiles, but they also owe it to themselves to select candidates using all the information they have at their disposal. Universities are completely justified in using public, online information regarding candidates as a part of the admissions process.

And that includes social media.

Perhaps the most obvious reason for colleges to judge applicants through social media is simply because it’s available to them. Combined with the fact that social media can provide meaningful insight into an applicant’s personality, it seems like a no-brainer that colleges should look at an applicant’s profiles.

Mitchell Chang, UCLA education and Asian American studies professor, said in an emailed statement that looking at social media may help admissions committees make more informed decisions regarding specific applicants.

“If an applicant expresses him/herself in ways that raise serious concerns, such harmful expressions should not be overlooked,” Chang wrote. “If applied carefully, … social media will have an insignificant impact overall, but when it does make a difference, it could be immeasurable.”}

This alludes to the crux of the issue: Social media provides a way for colleges to judge applicants in a relatively unfiltered manner. In other words, it offers a unique perspective on an applicant that an admissions officers may not get from an application.

And more importantly, social media can alert colleges as to whether applicants have posted something derogatory or demeaning in some way. It can reflect integrity and maturity, or a lack thereof – and that can be vital in difficult admissions decisions.

“A school wouldn’t want someone who has bad moral character to represent them,” said Maya Andari, a third-year microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics student. “With that being known, you’re expected to be conscious about what you post.”

But social media doesn’t just act as a check on poor character.

It can positively supplement students’ application in certain cases. An applicant’s social media presence may focus around an activity or passion that reflects personality or good character. It gives the admissions officer another perspective of the candidate, with the possibility of exposing more positive qualifications and experiences.

Madeline Buecheler, a second-year economics and world arts and cultures student, said that social media has helped her with landing an internship.

“Social media helped me demonstrate my passion for fashion, and it’s a big thing to have a social media handle in my field,” Buecheler said. “It’s a great way of having different people see your image.”

And this method of personal screening isn’t new or exclusive by any stretch. Employers often check the social media presence of potential hires – and one of the primary goals of college is preparing students for future careers.

Employers won’t hesitate to hire or fire people based on social media presence, which students will come to learn once they enter their careers postgraduation. Cognizance regarding social media presence is a must for jobs, and college admissions following suit is good preparation for common hiring practices.

Many would argue that colleges looking at social media illustrates a blatant violation of privacy. People typically associate these platforms with personal use, and nobody expects it to bleed over into their professional life. But what most fail to understand is that public profiles on social media represent information made available of one’s own volition.

As such, it’s not a violation of privacy – it’s an indication of how you represent yourself on the most public sphere there is: the internet.

Another common misconception is that colleges may judge applicants for personal beliefs or ideologies not included in their applications but emblazoned on their social media. But that would only play a role if those beliefs were actively meant to hurt or demean others – and colleges are justified in being wary of that.

So if, hypothetically, an applicant posts derogatory remarks toward other groups or other people, college admissions officers should have the right to use that information when coming to a decision about a candidate.

At the end of the day, colleges can and should use all the information they have available to make their decisions on applicants.

Students are more than just their applications, and universities need to understand who they’re choosing to represent them.

And if that means checking Instagram, so be it.

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Srikanth Raguraman | Opinion columnist
Raguraman is an Opinion columnist and News contributor.
Raguraman is an Opinion columnist and News contributor.
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