Toning Down the Tweet Language ; College-Bound Students Are Showing New Caution in Their Web Behavior

By Singer, Natasha | International New York Times, November 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

Toning Down the Tweet Language ; College-Bound Students Are Showing New Caution in Their Web Behavior


Singer, Natasha, International New York Times


Fewer college officials are finding online material that could derail a student's chance of admission.

Admissions officers at Morehouse College in Atlanta were shocked several years ago when a number of high school seniors submitted applications using email addresses containing provocative language.

Some of the addresses made sexual innuendos while others invoked gangster rap songs or drug use, said Darryl D. Isom, Morehouse's director of admissions and recruitment.

But last year, he and his staff noticed a striking reversal: Nearly every applicant to Morehouse, an all-male historically black college, used his real name, or some variation, as his email address.

Morehouse admissions officials, who occasionally dip into applicants' public social media profiles looking for additional details about them, also found fewer provocative posts.

"Students know college admissions departments are looking," Mr. Isom said. "They are cleaning up their online profiles before they ever apply."

Morehouse's experience mirrors the findings in a new report from Kaplan Test Prep. This application season fewer college officials are finding online material that could derail a student's chance of admission, even though an increasing number of college admissions officers consider the public social media accounts of applicants to be fair game.

Of the 403 undergraduate admissions officers who were polled by telephone over the summer, 35 percent said they had visited an applicant's social media page, an increase of nine percentage points from 2012. But only 16 percent of them said they had discovered information online that had hurt a student's application, compared with 35 percent in 2012.

"Students are more aware that any impression they leave on social media is leaving a digital fingerprint," said Seppy Basili, Kaplan's vice president for college admissions. "My hunch is that students are not publicly chronicling their lives through social media in the same way."

To support his hunch, he pointed to several trends.

For one, many parents and guidance counselors now warn teenagers that posting controversial material, or even an offhand comment, online could have long-term repercussions for their college or career prospects.

Also, today's teenagers, who are not just digital natives, but native social networkers, use a wider variety of sites and apps than their predecessors. And they are embracing more visual mediums, like YouTube and Instagram, as well as ephemeral messaging apps like Snapchat, and anonymous chat sites like YikYak, where parents and college officials may be less likely to find them.

"Students are quickly moving from one medium to another trying to get away from the grasp of adults," said Jody Jennings, the co- director of college counseling at Charlotte Latin School in Charlotte, N.C.

The practice of undergraduate admissions officers' conducting online searches on applicants or seeking out their social media profiles occurs most often at private, highly selective liberal arts colleges that handpick their incoming classes with the idea of creating unique, diverse communities.

Large state universities, whose admissions criteria involve quantifiable measures like grades and test scores, do not have the capacity for individual explorations of applicants' social lives. …

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