I am so excited to be here today with Carolynn Crabtree, who’s going to be taking with us about how students’ online reputation affect college admissions and college athletic recruiting. This is a really cool topic that I’m so excited to talk about.
What I think is so fascinating about your work and the work your company is doing is that you all are actually diving in and doing the research. You’re not just saying “Oh, here’s what we think.” You’re actually looking in to see what really is going on and doing some real research on that.
Can you share with us a little bit about what you discovered through the research process?
Carolynn: Absolutely. We were so focused on being research-driven. There’s a lot of information out there for students and parents to understand all other aspects of the college admissions process, but we really wanted families to be empowered and understand this whole new world where students have left impressions online and admission officers and coaches can search students online to find out more information about applicants and recruits and form impressions about them that way.
For our research – we’ve been doing it for the past three years – collectively, we’ve surveyed almost 400 admissions officers from the top 100 universities per the U.S News & World Report and almost 1000 college coaches for sports ranging from fencing to football. Again, we really wanted to focus on when, how, and why these major life gatekeepers search teens online and what can affect them in both positive and negative senses.
Everything we did was to empower students because before our research, this was a really obscure part of the college application process, and we thought that students and parents had the right to know how students would be searched online.
In essence, this is an increasing trend. You’re probably not surprised by that. Three years ago, we found that 27% of admissions officers searched applicants online. Two years ago, that was up to 36%. In the past year, that was almost 50% of the admissions officers who we surveyed.
A piece of advice that we have for everyone has to do with Facebook. Almost 70% said that they looked up applicants on Facebook. We know that a lot of teens will say “Well, we’re not really using Facebook socially anymore. It’s kind of obsolete.”
At Cornerstone Reputation, we say, “Fantastic. Great. We have this data. We know that admissions officers are looking up candidates on Facebook, so start considering it your own personal bulletin board for admissions officers to see your content, to see all of the awesome and practical things that you’re doing.”
You probably won’t be surprised that Twitter and Instagram are close seconds for where both admissions officers and coaches are searching applicants online.
An empowering piece of information is that over a quarter of admissions officers think that students can really gain an advantage by having a positive online reputation. A big percent of college coaches felt that having a positive online presence was critical for them to see recruits in a positive light.
Dr. Wray: Wow. So this is a big deal.
Carolynn: Yes. This is a new, emerging, and massive deal for teens as they approach this part of their life.
Dr. Wray: That’s so interesting because it’s an element of the college application process that I think nobody really considers. There’s all this effort that’s put into writing your essays, getting your GPA up, getting your good test scores, and getting that perfect application package put together to send off to the schools, but no one is really thinking “What about my online presence? What about everything that’s not in my application? Where else could admissions officers be looking for information?”
What are they looking for exactly when they search for a student online?
Carolynn: I’m so glad you asked that question. Something that we found in our research that is so interesting and makes so much sense is that the average age of an admissions officer is in the late 20s/early 30s. Many are hired right out of college. Coaches search because they really want to understand who’s coming into their family. A sports team at a college is really a family. It’s a whole program. How is that student going to represent their school?
We wanted to find out why these gatekeepers search. And you touched on one of those points. Admissions officers know that applications are too edited. They’re so planned and tailored and there’s a lot of interview prep. To find out more about the authentic student, they go online. They know students use online platforms as their playground. It’s where they are their most organic selves. So, they want to find out who the authentic candidate really is.
They often search because it saves them time to look up awards or leadership positions to really understand more about a candidate that they can’t quite explain in an application. And sometimes it’s just inevitable. A lot of students are now submitting a YouTube video as part of their college application, or a college application might even request a piece of online data or online media, which will result in a daisy chain: you know how we all click and then we click on the next video and the next.
Dr. Wray: Exactly. All the related content. Then you’re down the rabbit hole, and now all of a sudden, they’re looking at the pictures from your last party with your friends.
Carolynn: Precisely. Another piece of information for all of our teen athletes out there is that coaches are so busy they often have their current players search online.
Dr. Wray: Interesting. And they’re going to be on social media.
Carolynn: They will be on social media. They are digital natives. They can do a much swifter, deeper search of a recruit. You as a recruit might already be connected to them online, giving them higher visibility into your content.
So, this is the type of tactical information that's really important for students and student athletes to know as they’re approaching this phase of life.
Edited by Jennifer Schwartz