Applying to College? Check Your Facebook

For some college-bound Seniors, the college application is not limited to the short answers, the long essays, the test scores and grades that they submit. Their Facebook profiles are on the list, too. According to a report released on September 18, a recent survey conducted by Kaplan Inc. showed that 10 percent of college admissions officers have looked at applicants’ social-networking profiles, such as Facebook and MySpace. John Anderson, the Director of College Counseling, said that the College Counseling Office (CCO) tells Uppers that some colleges look at profiles from Facebook or other social networking sites and that the students should act accordingly. “Students should not post anything on their sites that they would not want a college admissions officer to see. Also, they should remember that other people might publish something on their sites about the applicant,” wrote Anderson in an email to The Phillipian. The survey, conducted this past July and August, comprised of 320 institutions of the top 500 schools as evaluated by Barron’s Education Series, Inc. A quarter of the participating admissions officers said that applicants’ profiles had positive impacts on their evaluations, but another 38 percent said the profiles negatively impacted the applications. Anderson wrote, “We have been told by college admissions officers that their support for an applicant might decline based on something they saw in a social networking site. A decision to admit might change to a waitlist based on a site. No college wants to discover on a site a picture of an applicant doing something grossly inappropriate. Like any powerful tool, social networking sites can do very positive things and very negative things.” Jeff Olson, the executive director of Kaplan’s test-prep division, wrote in a statement to the Chicago Tribune, “The vast majority of schools we surveyed said they have no official policies or guidelines in place regarding visiting applicants’ social-networking websites — nor are they considering plans to develop them.” According to the Chicago Tribune, one admissions officer withdrew an acceptance because of the prospective student hat “trashed” the school in his or her profile post on the social-networking page. According to Olson, most of the colleges that check social-networking sites do not do so on a regular basis, but for confirmation of information in the students’ applications. However, with the numbers of college applications climbing each year, the intense competition between applicants for spots in the nation’s top schools has pressed college admissions to stretch their evaluations to include more aspects of students’ lives, including their profiles on Facebook and MySpace. Anderson wrote, “What ever someone has on their site is in the public domain and therefore available for anyone who wants to look at it. Personally, I would prefer college admission officers ignore these sites and not look at them. If they do look at sites, I would prefer that they make this practice clear in their application instructions.” Student opinions vary on this new turn in the college screening process. Hannah Turk ’09 said, “I’m not concerned [about colleges checking social-networking profiles]. In fact, I totally see where this is coming from and believe it is a valid way to screen applicants. An application can be a very contrived thing, so looking into something like a Facebook profile that has not been polished for colleges would show admissions officers a true piece of the applicant’s identity.” “Hopefully, for the applicant,” Turk continued, “the identity found in their profile would match what they represented in their application. If not, it’s their fault entirely. When applying to college, all entities of you are applying, not just your grades and your profound moments in life scrapped up into essays.” However, Sophia Jia ‘10 believed that colleges should not judge an applicant’s character based on their profiles. “The images that people project of themselves [on social-networking sites] cannot be 100% accurate,” said Jia. “If colleges are looking for a particular characteristic in an applicant and I don’t make the cut, [it may be] because I never thought that it was important to put it up, not because I don’t have it.” Hanna Gully ’09 thought that looking at an applicant’s profile on the Internet was an invasion of privacy. “I just think there is a personal boundary,” said Gully. “I divide my school life and my social life, and I feel like that [process] violates it a little bit.” Northwestern University and the University of Chicago thought that checking students’ profiles was too much of an invasion of the students’ privacy. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago said, “We don’t have a policy not to look, we just don’t look. Despite the fact that these things are semipublic … I don’t think we should be spying on things that aren’t intended for us.”