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

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.

“The survey results that we’re referencing are not that surprising to see that some schools do,” said Matt Lopez, director of admissions at the U. “In my mind’s eye of a fair process, I obviously like the applicant to be aware of what we’re judging them on … and that’s certainly something that not every applicant has, nor would we be able to find every applicant.”

However, future employers and almost a third of admissions officers — more likely at smaller and liberal arts schools — will be looking at applicants’ online footprints, according to Trent Hunsaker, social media marketing coordinator at USU.

“This type of personal branding, whether or not admission might be based on your online footprint, there’s not doubt that a job could be affected by it later on,” Hunsaker said. “I would definitely not have anything on there that they would not happily show their parents.”

Hunsaker quoted the movie “The Social Network” and said the Internet is written in ink — not pencil — and posts will stick with people for a long time.

“It’s a new phenomenon that we’re dealing with because these millennial students have grown up online,” Hunsaker said. “These students have a rich digital history, and it’s a new thing that we haven’t seen or dealt with in the past.”

Rauscher recommends that students keep their profiles devoid of anything obscene or that shows they might be out of control, like photos of them partying or breaking the law. She said colleges don’t want to bring problems to their campuses.

“The thing that students might not be quite as aware about is making these easily disparaging comments that don’t have a lot of thought behind them. … They have to be really careful about that,” she said.