High schoolers wise up about social media when applying for colleges

High schoolers are increasingly aware that those embarrassing Facebook posts or tweets could cost them a shot at getting into their dream college.

The test prep company Kaplan found that only 16 percent of the 403 colleges surveyed found anything troubling in the social media posts they viewed -- a drop from 50 percent a year ago. That decline comes as the survey found more colleges are factoring social media into the application process: 35 percent in the latest survey compared to only 9 percent six years ago.

Wes Waggoner, the dean of admissions at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, acknowledged he has seen cases where social media posts resulted in a rejection letter. But he said students now have a greater appreciation of the damage that a wild party shot can do.

"Students are aware that what they say on social media has an impact on something that's important to them," Waggoner told Adriana Diaz of CBS News.

"As social media has evolved from early versions of MySpace and Facebook to a broad ecosystem of platforms and apps that are a daily part of millions of people's lives worldwide, we're seeing greater acceptance of social media use in the college admissions process," Christine Brown, executive director of K12 and college prep programs for Kaplan Test Prep, said in a statement. "This means admissions officers are increasingly open to what they once viewed as a dubious practice, while teens have come to terms with the fact that their digital trails are for the most part easily searchable, followable and sometimes judged."

In a separate survey of 500 high school students, Kaplan found that 58 percent of students describe their social networking pages as "fair game" for admissions officers. And rather than fearing what a college might see, 35 percent said they felt it could actually help their chances of admission -- with 18 percent seeing social media as a savvy way to promote themselves.

Still, Kaplan said social media still plays only a "peripheral role" in the process and that grades and test scores are the main factors being considered by colleges.

"The majority of admissions officers are not looking at Facebook for applicant information, and even those who are typically do so as an anomaly -- because they were flagged, either positively or negatively, to particular applicants," Brown said. "Admissions chances are still overwhelmingly decided by the traditional factors of high school GPA, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, personal essays and extracurricular activities. Applicants' online personas are really a wild card in the admissions process."

Don't tell that to Neha Husein, a Hebron High School senior who has applied to 10 colleges including SMU. She acknowledged that she thinks twice before posting anything.

"One wrong tweet can go viral in seconds," Husein said. "You can never ever be too careful, especially when it comes to college and the rest of your life."