Applying for scholarships? Google yourself first.

Are scholarship sponsors joining the online vetting process?

Students: It is not only potential employers that are using the Internet to find information about you that isn't stated on your resume or application. More frequently, organisations that offer scholarships are venturing online to do background checks on their applicants.

What they uncover, either the professional LinkedIn profile or public Facebook photos of you on your last tequila-filled escapade, can be the deciding factor between whether you are awarded a scholarship or not.

Teenagers, as well as their older counterparts, are becoming increasingly aware of the concept of digital citizenship -- it is not only important to conduct yourself appropriately online, but also to ensure your privacy remains as secure as possible.

It is not often you think of employment opportunities as a teenager beyond a good resume, qualifications and some work experience. However, as physical and digital lines blur, the choices a person makes in both realms can go further than simply being polite and sensible -- instead, it can hit financially if a mistake is made.

"Students need to recognize that the colleges and scholarship providers are increasingly looking at this," said Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of

Kantrowitz, in conjunction with the National Scholarship Providers Association, conducted a survey of approximately 75 of the organization's members to explore just how many scholarship providers use online search facilities to vet applicants.

The survey [.pdf] found that a quarter of scholarship providers use online services including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter to search for information about scholarship applicants online. However, background checks were only conducted on finalists, possibly due to the time involved.

75 percent of the surveyed scholarship providers stated they were seeking 'red flags' -- something which may result in damage to the sponsor's reputation if the applicant were accepted. These signs included evidence of "poor judgement", inappropriate photographs or illegal activity such as underage drinking and drug use.

The survey also found:

  • Over 50 percent of scholarship providers review an applicant's digital footprint to get to know
  • the applicant better -- to look for "creativity and other positive personality traits" as well as communication skills.
  • 25 percent vetted an applicant online to identify any conflicting information about the applicant -- including lies or fake qualifications listed on applications.
  • A third of scholarship providers have denied an applicant a scholarship because of online data, and 25 percent have granted an applicant a scholarship because of a positive digital footprint.

The report includes a number of tips for 'cleaning up' your online identity. You may wish to use a professional email address, Google your name to correct any problems, tighten up social media account security and think twice before posting anything that may come back to haunt you later.

As such a wealth of information is now available online, it is not improbable that online vetting in all industries is going to continue to grow. More than ever, individuals must be careful about what data is exchanged online -- it only takes a single inappropriate photo or comment to cause serious, detrimental effects -- in both studies and career.

Image credit: C.Osborne