SFChronicle: Scholarship providers vet students’ social networks

20 03 2012

Kathleen Pender

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Here’s another reason not to post photos of your high school beer bash online: They could cost you a college scholarship.

About one-fourth of scholarship providers who responded to a survey said they use sites such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter to check out applicants, primarily just finalists. Of those who do:

— About three-fourths are looking for behavior that could reflect badly on the scholarship provider, such as underage drinking, provocative pictures, illegal drug use or racial slurs.

— About one-quarter wanted to verify information on the application.

— More than half wanted to know the applicant better or were looking for positive traits such as creativity or good communication skills.

— About one-third have denied an applicant a scholarship, and a quarter have granted an applicant a scholarship, because of something they found online.

FastWeb and the National Scholarship Providers Association sent surveys to the association’s approximately 300 members in September. The 67 members who responded provide a cross-section of privately funded scholarships.

Not common yet

Although only a handful of providers – fewer than 10 – denied a scholarship based on their online sleuthing, the practice could become more common, as it has in employment.

“In the free-form comments, a couple of (scholarships providers) said they didn’t think about it until they got the survey,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb.com and FinAid.org.

None of the providers were doing “real extensive research or background checks on applicants,” he says. “They are looking for red flags.”

Providers “are looking at whether the individual has good sense and will reflect well on the organization. There is the recognition that kids will be kids and will occasionally cross the line,” Kantrowitz adds. “Where they have zero tolerance is if they find information online that is inconsistent with what is on the application. If you are applying for a scholarship for poor students and your home is in a ZIP code with million-dollar homes, that will raise some questions.”

Kantrowitz could not disclose which providers review online profiles. He has heard, anecdotally, that some admissions offices also do it, but he knows of no research on that subject.

Deborah Fox, who helps families devise college funding solutions, says she was at a continuing education seminar where admissions officers discussed using online resources to screen applicants for admission and financial aid based on merit (but not need).

However, none of the colleges or scholarship providers I spoke to said they do it.

(Full Story)




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