OPINION: Judge one, judge all; Why universities must standardize social media monitoring of applicants

Jessica Sommerville | Editor in Chief

Glue is no longer enough to hold the paper-mache selves we craft for college admissions. According to a survey by Kaplan Test Prep, 40 percent of admissions officer said they monitor applicants’ social media – its highest since 2008.

A single tweet could dismantle a carefully patched image – but we all know this. The real concern is not the social media monitoring itself but its inconsistency. Even if we disregard the inconsistencies in social media policy across universities, the institutions that do look up students online rarely regulate such activity but pursue it on a case by case basis.

Kaplan reports 80 percent of admissions officers check applicants’ social media “rarely,” which should be heartening but is not. The company cites “interest in talents,” “verification of awards,” “criminal records,” “scholarships,” or “admissions sabotage” as reasons to scan Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – but what is to separate one applicant’s talent from the next?

The 140 characters of a borderline student may be screened for selfies with the family whose house she built for Habitat for Humanity to push her over the edge into acceptance, while another, also borderline, student may reach an admissions officer who prefers the Common Application stand alone and therefore be pushed into rejection.

I do not mean to trivialize the process – the stakes on the admissions game cause officers to take a lot of hits – but I do question the transparency, and the validity, of such a system, or lack thereof. For a university could not only find a Habitat for Humanity selfie but a retweet from its rival school on an applicant’s feed.

Yield rates, or the percentage of accepted students that enroll, are a source of prestige, an indicator of desirability, and a selling point for universities. According to U.S. News and World Report, the average yield rate among national universities is only 33.6 percent.

This, in part, accounts for the Early Decision program: all applicants accepted via this program must enroll, any extra percentage point bumps a university further from quality and closer to elite. It is not unfathomable that a student deemed unlikely to enroll, even through social media activity, could be denied.

It is for this reason I kept my first college acceptance hush, though I longed to post it to the archaic Facebook in the hopes of reaching my distant relatives. I did not want to risk any university seeing where I had been accepted to school, seeing its competition.

That may be paranoia but not so much so as when I let that tweet from one university or another go not favorited because I do not want that to condemn me either. I crave a blank admissions slate, so my Twitter account is primarily Chronicle retweets.

The admissions process already chips away at our dignity: it turns us into our four a.m. selves, crazy-haired and bleary-eyed. We have spent four years racing to a finish line that can only be accessed through the space-time continuum. So we paper-mache the selves we approve for a gallery walk, and guess at which tweets may enter the show.

The least we can ask is that each applicant will suffer or benefit from the same scrutiny.

jsommerville.chronicle@gmail.com