Law schools check digital trail of applicants more than other schools

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Mingxi Zheng/Staff

Law school admissions officers are more likely than business schools and other colleges to search an applicant’s digital trail, according to a national survey by Kaplan Test Prep released Monday.

The survey, which included responses from 128 American Bar Association-accredited law schools, found that 41 percent of law school admissions officers have searched applicants online, as opposed to 27 percent of business and 20 percent of college admissions officers.

“At first that might seem strange, but when you think about what law schools do, it makes sense,” said Jeff Thomas, director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep. “Law schools are the gatekeepers to the world of law, so their students are held at a higher ethical standard. That’s fair to the profession.”

According to the survey, 37 percent of law school admissions officers have checked an applicant’s Facebook or other social networking profile. Inappropriate pictures or vulgar status updates are a “red flag” to admissions officers seeking students who exercise good judgment, Thomas said.

At UC Berkeley School of Law, searching an applicant online does not happen routinely and is at the discretion of each individual admissions officer, according to Kristin Theis-Alvarez, associate director of admissions.

“When we search someone, it’s usually because the applicant has opened the doorway,” Theis-Alvarez said. “More applicants are becoming better, savvy self-promoters, and they’ll have a link in their resume to a YouTube video, or they maintain a blog. Facebook is a silly place to look for information — it’s not your professional face forward.”

UC Berkeley senior Victoria Wong, president of Sigma Alpha Nu, a pre-law fraternity, said in an email that there should be strict limitations on the Internet-searching abilities of admissions officers, because applicants already spend so much time identifying and addressing their own academic discrepancies or deficiencies.

“I can see how Internet searches could be useful for admissions officers who want to verify information in an application,” Wong said in the email. “The disadvantage of an Internet search is that applicants have no control over search results, and for sites like Facebook, there is no chance for an applicant to explain questionable content.”

Both Theis-Alvarez and Thomas stressed the importance of utilizing privacy settings to remove questionable content from social media sites.

“Searching someone’s Facebook is possible, but at the end of the day, the person who controls this is the applicant,” said Theis-Alvarez. “If there’s something you don’t want us to know, and you don’t take the step to hide this from us, then it’s bad judgment on your part.”

The results of the survey demonstrate how technology and social media have infiltrated the traditionally rigid admissions process in law schools, Thomas said.

According to Wong, law school admissions have to maintain a balance between ensuring the admittance of highcaliber students and respecting personal privacy.

“To some extent, what you post on the internet is a reflection of your judgment and foresight, but personally, it makes me uncomfortable to think that any part of the admissions decision hinges on a Google search of my name,” Wong said in the email.