Students beware: Scholarship providers aren't just going by your application to learn about you.

They're also checking you out on Google and social media sites, according to a recent survey. And what they uncover — the good or the bad — could be the tie-breaker when it comes to deciding between you and another candidate.

"Students need to recognize that the colleges and scholarship providers are increasingly looking at this," says Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of, a scholarship site that conducted the survey.

For years teens have been warned to be careful about what they post online for safety reasons. Now they have a financial incentive to do so. With scarce scholarship dollars at stake and online privacy settings not foolproof, students will have to make sure they put their best foot forward online.

Kantrowitz, along with the National Scholarship Providers Association, surveyed about 75 of the organization's members.

They found that about one-quarter searched Google and social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn for information about applicants. Searches usually were conducted only on finalists.

Searchers looked for red flags, such as evidence of drug use or underage drinking, inappropriate photos, discriminatory comments and poor attitudes. One-third of providers conducting searches denied a scholarship to a student based on their findings.

"They want students to reflect well on the organization," Kantrowitz says. "The last thing a scholarship provider wants to hear is their student just got arrested for running a campus drug ring."

But scholarship providers aren't trying only to dig up dirt. "They are trying to get to know the student better," Kantrowitz says.

One-quarter of those doing searches gave a scholarship based on information gleaned online.

Several scholarship providers in Maryland say they don't vet students on the Internet.

"We're not yet, but it can well be coming," says Roberta Goldman, program director for the Central Scholarship Bureau in Pikesville, which awards about $1 million each year in scholarships and grants.

The CollegeBound Foundation in Baltimore, which gives out more than $1 million annually, also doesn't check out students online.

"We do advise students to be mindful of what they put online about themselves," says Deana Carr-Davis, associate program director of scholarships.

Kantrowitz expects the practice of online vetting to grow.

"Several of the providers said they didn't currently look at the online presence of finalists, but now that they think about it, it's not a bad idea," he says.

What can students do?

They can make sure their privacy settings are correctly configured. But these settings can give a false sense of security.

"Friends on Facebook have information about you and they can pass it on to other people," says Danielle Citron, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law who specializes in Internet privacy. "They don't need your permission to share it with someone."