New York: If you think US college admissions officers aren’t checking your Facebook and Twitter profiles, you are dead wrong.

According to an annual Kaplan Test Prep survey, around 25 percent of admissions officers at America’s top 500 colleges have trawled Facebook and used Google to vet applicants. In 2008, when Kaplan began tracking this trend, only one in 10 admissions officers reported checking applicants’ social networking pages.

While the percentage of admissions officers who took to Google and Facebook increased slightly from last year, the percentage that said they discovered something that busted a student’s chances of getting into school tripled – from 12 percent last year to 35 percent this year.

“With regard to college admissions, 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,” said Jeff Olson, Vice President of Data Science, at Kaplan Test Prep, who conducted the survey this summer.

“Schools are philosophically divided on whether an applicant’s digital trail is fair game, and the majority of admissions officers do not look beyond the submitted application, but our advice to students is to think first, Tweet later.”

Students who post lurid details of their drunken nights on Facebook can end up with a few problems on their hands. Kaplan said that US schools had turned up vulgarities in blogs, alcohol consumption in photos, things that make you “wonder,” illegal activities, and essay plagiarism when they searched online.

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“Social media used to basically mean Facebook. But the underlying trend we see is the increase in use of Google, which taps into a social media landscape that’s proliferated to include Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, blogging and other platforms – and teens today are using all of these channels,” said Olson.

“Additionally, 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. In the face of all these trends, the rise in discovery of digital dirty laundry is inevitable,” he added.

Kaplan’s survey also found that only 15 percent of US colleges currently have rules regarding the checking of applicants’ Facebook or social networking pages – a percentage that has remained fairly consistent over the past few years. Of schools that do have a policy, 69 percent said the policy prohibited admissions officers from visiting applicants’ pages, still leaving the vast majority of admissions officers with the flexibility to act at their own discretion.

US universities attract more foreign students than any other country. All told, there were 723,277 foreign students at US colleges in 2010-11, up 32 percent from 2000-01. Asia has dominated the foreign student population, with China and India having 157,558 and 103,895 students in the US. Typically, students from India and China pay the full “out-of-state” cost of a college education helping US schools meet their bottom line.

There’s a growing cottage industry of firms to help students eager to clean up their online profiles. But it shouldn’t be too hard for you to manage your online reputation.

Clean Up Your Act

Police yourself: If you have posted crazy comments, pictures or content on sites such as Twitter and Facebook, you can easily remove it by finding the offending comment and deleting it. Just remember, Twitter and Facebook aren’t the only sites you should check. Photo-sharing sites such as Flickr and video-sharing sites such as YouTube also may contain embarrassing stuff.

Social media experts advise people against sharing anything of a religious, political or sexual nature.

Pause Before Pressing the Send Button

Mark W Davis who co-authored the best-selling book, Digital Assassination, is very clear that we are set up to pay a price for emails or posts that could last a lifetime.

“I advise people to take a deep breath before hitting that send button, and imagine what you are sending being a) on the front page of your daily newspaper, and b) being there forever,” Davis once told me.

“Or better yet, put that email or post in your “Drafts” folder and sleep on it.”

Publish date: October 10, 2012 7:49 am| Modified date: October 10, 2012 7:49 am

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