-by Thomas Hauck
Social networking websites have become a part of daily life for many high school students. They use sites such as Myspace and Facebook to post photos, communicate with their friends, and express themselves freely. It’s easy for teens to think that they live in their own bubble, but kids who are applying to college should know that everything on their social networking page is open to the public—and this includes college admissions officers.
According to a recent Kaplan Higher Education Corporation survey of 320 admissions officers from colleges and universities, one in ten admissions officers has visited an applicant’s social networking website as part of the admissions decision-making process.
Of those who had visited applicants’ social networking sites, many reported a negative impact on their admissions evaluation. In some examples that elicited a negative response, one wonders what the student was thinking. One admissions officer discovered that a student bragged that he felt that he had aced the college’s application process. To make matters worse he wrote that didn’t feel that he wanted to attend that school. Not surprisingly, the officer rejected the applicant.
The impression isn’t always negative, and a student’s social networking website doesn’t have to be a liability. A quarter of the admissions officers who reported viewing applicants’ sites said that visiting a social networking site had a positive impact on their evaluation.
Attitudes Vary Towards Visiting Applicants’ Websites
Jeff Olson, executive director of research for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, stated that the vast majority of schools they surveyed have no official policies or guidelines in place regarding visiting applicants’ social networking web sites. Many are not even considering plans to develop them.
For schools who reported having a policy, staff can generally visit them for narrowly defined reasons, but can’t go on fishing expeditions. Many do not consider them as part of the application process.
Sandra Starke, vice provost for enrollment management at Binghamton University, State University of New York, acknowledges the public/private dichotomy of the social websites. She said that it can be difficult to evaluate the content of a high school student’s site, and that sites had a minimal impact on final decisions. But they are aware of the trend and will continue to monitor it.
The awareness is spreading to graduate schools. Kaplan’s survey revealed that admissions officers at fourteen percent of medical schools, nine percent of business schools, and fifteen percent of law schools report having visited applicants’ social networking sites during the admissions decision-making process.
Some colleges are turning the tables and exploiting social networking sites as recruitment tools. A recent article in BusinessWeek reported that Scott Minto, the director of the admissions office at San Diego State University’s Sports Management Program, maintains a Facebook page filled with information about campus events, ranging from videos of students visiting the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California to the school’s participation in the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach. Minto writes a blog and uses Facebook to invite students to the admissions events that he presents in various cities around the country. San Diego State also advertises on Facebook, placing ads designed to attract the students the college is seeking.
Should parents discourage their college-bound children from maintaining a social networking page? Not necessarily: a student’s page can be an asset or a liability. It all depends on how the students present themselves. And remember, whatever you do, don’t post something that’s critical of the college to which you are applying!