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Updated October 4, 2012, 4:43 p.m. ET

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By DOUGLAS BELKIN and CAROLINE PORTER

A growing number of top-ranked U.S. colleges say they are finding objectionable material online that hurts the chances of prospective freshmen.

A growing number of college admissions officers are using Google, Facebook and other Internet tools to help vet applicants, according to a Kaplan Test Prep survey. Doug Belkin has details on The News Hub. (Photo: AP)

About a quarter of admissions officers at the nation's top 500 colleges have used websites such as Facebook and Google to vet applicants, according to an annual Kaplan Test Prep survey. Of those, more than one-third say they have found something that has hurt a student's chance of admission, up from 12% last year.

"We have seen students that have been involved in bullying behavior or alcohol or drugs," said Martha Blevins Allman, dean of admissions at Wake Forest University. "We never use it as a single indicator and we don't search blindly, but if we have other suspicions, we will look." Vetting by using social-media sites including Facebook and Twitter still hovers in a gray zone at most college adm survey had an official policy about whether to do so, and more than two-thirds of those schools said they won't use the technique.

Among schools without a policy, more than a quarter say they have checked out a student's online persona, up slightly from last year, said Jeff Olson, vice president of data science at Kaplan Test Prep, who conducted the survey this summer. Kaplan has included questions about social media in its annual survey for four years. "The trend line is there," Mr. Olson said. "My advice to students is to be smart and think twice about what you post online." Most colleges don't have the time, resources or inclination to vet every candidate's


social-media presence. The amount of information that students provide—between essays, transcripts and recommendations—can be overwhelming. But several admissions officers interviewed said they occasionally Google students to learn more about a project in which they were involved, or because a red flag was raised in an interview, recommendation or somewhere else.

Enlarge Image Travis Dove for The Wall Street Journal

Martha Blevins Allman of Wake Forest says her North Carolina school will use online searches if it has suspicions about a prospective student.

"We leave it up to the individual admissions officers, and if something gives them cause to scratch their head, then they do it," said Paul Marthers, vice president for enrollment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. "But it's a very small number. Among the 15,000 applications we get, it would be well under 100 times."

Mr. Marthers said his school has turned up cases of plagiarism and accusations of sexual assault. It also has found behavior that resulted in school disciplinary action but didn't rise to the level of a suspension and didn't show up on the student's transcript. One applicant Mr. Marthers said he encountered at his previous job at Reed College was asked to leave a private high school for bullying. Mr. Marthers called the counselor at that school who said, "It's not something I would ever put in writing but, yes, that's what happened," Mr. Marthers said. The student was denied admission. At Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee, spokeswoman Laurie Saxton said a student who had been accepted for the class of 2015 and was at the university for a summer session ahead of his freshman year posted "inappropriate comments" on the school's Facebook page for the freshman class. "We sat him down and told him that was not the right way to communicate," Ms. Saxton said. "He removed his comments." Today's prospective freshmen have come of age using Facebook and are increasingly savvy about its use, but many still said the idea of college admissions officers reading their posts seemed weird. Enlarge Image

Naomi Wiener, an 18-year-old freshman engineering student at Cornell University, said the issue's fairness comes down to the amount of disclosure on colleges' part. "Everything you present to a college you prepare for," she said. "To blindside someone by looking at some side of them without them knowing is different from every other part of the college process." Marilyn Scholze, a volunteer college counselor at Lowell High School in San Francisco, said that while she reminds students to monitor their online behavior, it isn't part of the counseling curriculum in a systematic way. "I would prefer that colleges didn't use online profiles that way," said the 61-yearold, who has volunteered at the public school for 14 years. "I guess if someone


was on the margin and they were really concerned about a student's character, they might take a look. It's a personal thing and a little bit unfair."

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Education Week's blogs > College Bound Caralee Johnson Adams has worked as a journalist for nearly 25 years, covering education, health, parenting, and other issues. She received her journalism degree from Iowa State University and her Caralee master’s degree in political Adams science from the University of New Orleans.

« SAT Scores Show Slight Decline | Main | College Students Often Pay Less Than Sticker Price » Select a Month...

Weighing SAT and ACT Scores in College Admissions By Caralee Adams on September 25, 2012 4:55 PM

A new survey of 350 college-admissions officers by Kaplan Test Prep finds that 18 percent say it can be an advantage for students to submit both an ACT and SAT score, assuming both are strong. An increasing number of students are taking the college-entrance exams. This year, ACT Inc. reported 1,666,017 took its exam in the class of 2012, slightly surpassing the SAT with 1,664,479. With both organizations, females were more likely than males (by more than 100,000) to take the tests, according to the new SAT Total Group Data Report and the ACT National Profile Report. Just which test to take is a dilemma for high school students. According to the students enrolled in Kaplan Test Prep SAT and ACT courses, 60 percent intended to take both exams. About 85 percent of colleges and universities in the admissions officer survey required applicants to submit an ACT or SAT score, about the same as last year, the Kaplan report found. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing lists nearly 850 four-year colleges where tests scores are optional. When reviewing potential applicants, surveys by the National Association of College Admissions Counseling consistently finds the top factors are: grades in college-preparatory courses, strength of curriculum, standardized admission test scores, and overall high school grade point average. The Kaplan survey was conducted by telephone from July to September, polling 350 officers from the nation's 500 schools and using rankings from Barron's and U.S. News & World Report.

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In February and March, I had the opportunity to watch over the shoulder of a high school junior who was taking Kaplan's Complete SAT Prep: Classroom Anywhere class. As a professor at a brick-and-mortar university, I tend to grumble about online learning. I'm also not thrilled that standardized tests carry so much weight that test prep courses exist in the first place. But the reality is what it is, and despite my initial apprehensions, I found the Kaplan course to be both engaging and effective. For those of you who are contemplating this type of course, I worked with the student to write up our impressions. Check out our conclusions here: Review of Kaplan's Complete SAT Prep: Classroom Anywhere. I firmly believe that a disciplined student can prepare for the SAT or ACT with free online resources or a $20 book, but for the less-disciplined among us, the structure, schedule, and feedback from a class can be quite valuable. But don't forget that you can avoid the entire standardized test rat-race if you apply to some of these 850 testoptional colleges.

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POSTED ON MAY 29, 2012 | SHARE ARTICLE | COMMENTS OFF

Kaplan Test Prep SAT Course Review Part 1 - Cool Rewards Program Submit

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Since many of my readers’ kids may be planning to spend at least part of the summer preparing for the SAT, Amber and I are going to review Kaplan Test Prep’s SAT course for you. There are two ways that one can take a SAT Prep Course through Kaplan online: 1. Our Classroom Anywhere – which are virtual classrooms, that allow students to participate in lessons real-time, with live video instruction and teaching assistants. Much like a physical classroom setting. 2. On Demand – this course allows students to go at their own pace and on their own schedule with a personalized path through the curriculum.

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Both courses use Kaplan’s Smart Track system which analyzes student performance and prescribes a customized learning plan. The courses integrate focused content review, testtaking strategies, and the practice students need to achieve their target score. If your student will be taking the ACT rather than the SAT, Kaplan offers the same type of courses for that test as well. Amber’s using the SAT On Demand course for the review. She just started middle of May so this is her first impression of the program based on the start up. We’ll update it every couple of weeks to let you know how she’s doing and more info on the Kaplan Test Prep. AMBER’S INITIAL THOUGHTS: Kaplan's SAT prep program is an extremely helpful course for anyone who wants to master the tricky questions that appear on the SAT and PSAT. However, before you even begin learning, it's good to know all of the incentives you'll get to do your best. The Kaplan test prep has a cool rewards program to get you excited to learn. Every practice SAT test you do and every quiz you master will give you credits that you can spend in the Honors and Extras section. These credits are the currency for a number of things, including buying clothing and accessories to personalize your Kaptest avatar. But if that doesn't appeal to you, you can also use the credits to buy entries into sweepstakes and bid on auctions to get cool items like gift cards, games, and movies. The third option is by far my most favorite, and the most awesome. Your credits can also go towards different charities to help them out. There's everything from helping with disaster reliefs, to getting food and water to people who need it, to preventing animal cruelty, and to supporting education. I chose to donate my credits to Wounded Warriors, Souls for Soles, Disaster Relief in Japan and Tennesee...all sorts of different stuff – it makes me feel great that I can learn and give back! Thanks Kaplan for that option. Everything you do during your prep, whether it be finishing quizzes, spending your credits, or completing tests, will inevitably earn you badges. These badges (along with other activities) will earn you experience for your avatar, who can level up! All in all, for those of you who may be dreading the hours of practice you need to do to achieve your target SAT score there's a lot of rewards that might just be the push you need to enjoy it! Tune in for my next post to see how I’m progressing within the Kaplan Test Prep SAT On Demand course! * We received complimentary enrollment into the Kaplan Test Prep SAT On Demand Course for the purpose of this review. All opinions are our own.


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Published October 9th, 2012

Study: Admissions officers don’t ‘Like’ your beerstagram By Marissa Cetin

1. It’s Facebook official: After years of suspecting college admissions officers’ decisions are influenced by what a Google search may turn up, Kaplan Test Prep released results of a 2012 survey that prospective students might not “Like.”

2. 3. 4.

The survey, which polled 350 college admissions officers from the nation’s 500 top colleges and universities, found that the content officers find on social networking sites leads to increasingly negative views of applicants.

By Karen Bleier, Getty Images

Think before you “mupload.”

The percentage of admissions officers who searched Google and Facebook increased slightly from last year to 27% and 26%, respectively, but the number of searches that turned up something that soured the officers’ attitudes jumped from 12% to 35%.

The offenses include: plagiarism, vulgar blog posts, photos catching underage drinking, “things that made them ‘wonder’” and “illegal activities.” “The traditional application — the essays, the letters of recommendation — represent the polished version of an applicant, while often what’s found online is a rawer version of that applicant,” Jeff Olson, vice president of data science at Kaplan Test Prep, said in a press release. “We’re seeing a growing cultural ubiquity in social media use, plus a generation that’s grown up with a very fluid sense of privacy norms,” Olson said. “In the face of all these trends, the rise in discovery of digital dirty laundry is inevitable.”

Marissa Cetin is a fall intern at USA TODAY College. Follow her on Twitter: @marissacetin.

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