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More colleges checking online footprints, but most students not too concerned

Published: Sunday, Dec. 1 2013 4:30 p.m. MST

Hannah Bishop, 18, a freshman at Southern Utah University, is home for the holidays in North Salt Lake Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, checking her computer.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — While it's not standard practice now for Utah colleges to look at an applicant's Web presence, admissions officers at schools across the country and potential employers are checking online footprints more and more.

Kaplan Test Prep recently reported that a higher percentage of college admissions officers are searching applicants’ social media and online presence than last year. Yet most college applicants don’t seem too concerned about it.

The phone survey of 381 admissions officers found that 29 percent of college admissions officers have Googled applicants and 31 percent have looked at applicants' social networking pages.

As far as admissions officers finding something negatively impacting an applicant’s chances, the number has gone from 35 percent in 2012 to 30 percent.

“I’ve heard about (the practice) but I wasn’t that worried because I don’t post anything I wouldn’t want my mother to see,” said Hannah Bishop, 18, who applied to colleges last fall.

Bishop’s now studying at Southern Utah University and said she sees people posting things that she thinks could hurt their chances at opportunities. She said one of her friends told her she didn’t get a job because the company discovered online photographs of her at a party with alcohol and decided to hire another candidate.

An online survey of Kaplan students found that more than 75 percent would be either “not at all concerned” or “not too concerned” if an admissions officer did an online search of them.

But some say that students should be more concerned about online footprints.

“I think there is a little bit of disconnect between what students perceive they’re doing just as fun with their friends, or they may feel a little bit more anonymous than they are,” said Sari Rauscher, college counseling director at the Waterford School, a private liberal arts school in Sandy that emphasizes college preparation.

Rauscher said she and other counselors need to remind students to be careful about their online presence because future employers and future college or graduate school admissions staff may see it.

“It’s similar to them going into an interview and looking nice and having the right answers or having things on their resume to make them look good to colleges,” Rauscher said. “It’s a natural extension of what they have on their Facebook profiles and their social media profiles that would look good to colleges and employers. And some don’t consider that.”

Looking into an applicant’s online presence isn’t standard procedure for the University of Utah, Westminster College, Utah State University and Brigham Young University.

“Here at Westminster, that is not standard practice in the decision process. It’s not usual practice. We don’t have a written policy against it, but we just don’t do it. We have other ways to determine good fit students for Westminster,” said Darlene Dilley, director of admissions at Westminster College.

Dilley said it’s an issue coming to the forefront and something the school may consider in the future.

Other school officials in Utah said they go off an admissions index based on charts of GPA and test scores, so something like an online profile wouldn’t come into play. Some admissions staff said they wouldn’t even have time to look at more than just the application.

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