The results of recent surveys could give current and future University of Wisconsin students one more reason to be cautious of posting potentially embarrassing personal information on social networking sites.

A Survey Research Unit at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions asked admissions officers from colleges around the country — including UW-Madison and UW-Eau Claire — whether they had consulted social networking sites regarding applicants .

A survey of undergraduate admissions officers found that 10 percent of the 320 schools participating in the survey had checked a social networking site like Facebook or MySpace when deciding whether to admit a potential student. 

Of that 10, 38 percent reacted negatively to it compared to only a quarter that reacted positively. The remaining 38 percent found both positive and negative things on an applicant’s profile. 

Only 10 percent of the colleges polled had a set policy regarding social networking sites. The UW System has no set policies regarding applicants’ social networking sites.

David Giroux, a UW System spokesperson, said checking a social networking site is largely up to individual admissions officers.

“There’s no mention of social networking sites in the admissions policy,” Giroux said.

Tom Reason, associate director of admissions for UW, said for undergraduate admissions at a university of Madison’s size it is “logistically impossible” to check social networking sites.

“I’m not going to say never,” Reason said, in reference to checking potential applicants’ Facebook or MySpace pages. “If some horrific or extraordinary situation happened, with the media involved, we would investigate.”

Reason stressed that admissions officers generally consult the usual information about the applicant, including test scores and GPA.

Jeff Olson, executive director of Research for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, encouraged students to use discretion when posting personal information online.

“Use privacy controls and know that it’s something that everyone can just Google,” Olson said. “However you may feel about it, it’s not realistic to think that information that is public on the internet won’t be consulted.” 

Surveys of admissions officers at law schools, medical schools and business school programs across the United States indicated that graduate schools are more likely to check out applicants’ profiles.

Nine percent of admissions officers at business schools had checked applicants’ social networking sites, while officers at medical schools and law schools checked at 14 percent and 15 percent, respectively. 

Of those three surveys, the law schools had the most unfavorable reaction to applicants’ profiles. 

“The reason law schools, unlike business and medical schools, checked at a higher rate is that they often don’t have interviews or face-to-face time with students,” said Glen Stohr, director of pre-law programs with Kaplan.

Stohr maintained that students should remember that it’s possible their profiles are fair game, but that other factors bear more weight.

“It’s the wild, wild west for admissions officers,” Stohr said. “It’s still a minority of officers that look at social networking sites.”