Yesterday's blog post was about how I use social media, in general, in my work. The quick summary from the end of that post:
1. I like social media.
2. I don't have time to search for students on the internet.
3. If you include #UVA in a tweet or photo, you're asking our entire community to see it.
I imagine that some were thinking "Dean J, the New York Times just said 31% of admission officers look students up online. What's that about?" That statistic was generated from a phone survey of 381 admission officers (that's not a huge sample). I'm fairly certain I got the call because I vaguely remember thinking the questions were strangely worded. They didn't ask about how systematic Googling applicant names was. They ask if we had ever done it.
Here are three instances where I might turn to the internet for more information while reading a file and some real examples from my career:
1. There's something really, really cool in a file.
I'm starting with my favorite instance, but this isn't a daily thing. Every now and then, a student talks about something that interests me and I turn to Google to get some more information about it.
Several years ago, when cupcakes were just starting to enjoy a surge in popularity, a student wrote about starting her own cupcake business. She researched best practices for small businesses, analyzed costs, and launched a true business. I was so impressed (and probably hungry) that I searched for the business name to see the fabulous cupcakes about which I had just read.
Now I want a cupcake.
2. I need more information about a school.
This is probably the most common situation for me. Your college counselor submits a high school profile with their part of the application. Profiles explain the hierarchy of the curriculum in place at schools, grading scales, and methodologies for calculating statistics like GPA and rank. I'm sure you're aware that these things vary a lot from school to school. Once in a while, there's something missing from the profile and I usually turn to the web to find the information if it's after hours and I know there isn't going to be a counselor to talk to by phone.
Just the other day, I was reading an application from a school that gave general information about the curriculum, but didn't list specific courses in each discipline. There was no way for me to know what the top course offered was in each subject area. Google gave me this year's student handbook which included all the courses being offered this year.
3. Something seems too good to be true.
Like my first example, this isn't something that happens often. This is rare, but there are times when something seems off or wrong in a file and I turn to the internet for more information. A call to a high school counselor usually follows.
While reading the file of a student who attended the public high school in my hometown, I saw that she listed herself as the founder of a club you can find at many high schools. I was certain the club existed years ago and Googled the club out of curiosity to see if they had an online presence. The club didn't exist online, but the counselor confirmed that the club was new. Perhaps the organization existed when I was still in town and faded away soon after.
One more example: A colleague read a file in which an applicant said they were in charge of the Parks and Recreation department in their town and managed a budget that was a couple million dollars.
It seemed improbable that a town with a big enough operation to need that kind of budget wouldn't have a full-time director. A quick search revealed that the town did, in fact, have a Parks and Recreation department with a full time staff. A call revealed that the student was on an advisory board.
Please don't think that every admission officer around the country is prowling the web for information about applicants. Applications are pretty robust these days and provide us with the information we need in our review. I'm sure there are exceptions, but here and at many other colleges, the reading load each officer has is substantial. Can you imagine what our reading season would be like if we were Googling 30,000 applicants and combing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for them, too?