Facebook can hurt college applications

betty ming liu Inspiration, Relationships 8 Comments

When I went to College Night at my daughter’s high school last week, I was totally shocked to hear that colleges hire experts to snoop around the Facebook profiles of prospective students. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to be a kid.

Sure, the guidance counselors talked about application deadlines, financial aid and SAT scores. But they also pounded out the warning that students must clean up their Facebooks. While college recruiters don’t screen every applicant’s FB, they will do it when they feel like it. And this is a message that brought home to me how much the world has changed.

Now I’m understanding that the personal branding which is so essential to adult professional success actually begins very early in life. With today’s kids hooked on social networking and their mobiles devices, every status update makes a statement about that teen’s values, goals and moral character (or lack of it).

Even though we all know that employers check out Facebook profiles of prospective employees, it’s really sobering to realize that colleges are doing the same thing with kids that apply to their schools.

For students to shoulder the personal branding process at such a young age is insane. Seems to me that they have lost the freedom to spontaneously play-act and, just play. Instead, they need to learn 21st century responsibility. They have to stay smart about maintaining Facebook privacy settings, which means continuously monitoring both their status feeds and uploaded photos.

The situation also has implications for adults: We need to get serious about safeguarding the rights of children in cyberspace.

The New York Times recently ran an article about the Federal Trade Commission’s proposal for new regulations that would offer younger children more online protection. Here’s a quote from the article:

The proposed revisions expand the definition of “personal information” to include a child’s location, along with any personal data collected through the use of cookies for the purposes of targeted advertising. It also covers facial recognition technology. Web sites that collect a child’s information would be required to ensure that they can protect it, hold onto it “for only as long as is reasonably necessary,” and then delete the information safely.

The F.T.C. also suggested that parental consent should no longer be obtained through a two-step e-mail and authorization process, but through alternate methods, like getting scanned versions of signed consent forms and videoconferencing.

Like most teens, my daughter is constantly uploading new photos of herself hanging out. Her routine also includes waking up the next morning and going through her Facebook to remove tags of herself from pictures uploaded by her pals, along with ordering friends to delete shots that she dislikes.

The other day for the first time, I watched, speechless, as she went through the curating process. She was all business and very clear about what was acceptable and what was not. (Of course, I only got to observe for about two minutes because then she closed her bedroom door on me. Old-fashioned privacy is still the top priority, haha.)

Welcome to the new reality. Yeah.

If you want to read more, click here for a Huffington Post piece from Feb. 28, 2011 about a Kaplan Test Prep survey which shows that 80 percent of college admissions officers use Facebook to check out prospective students. At that time, about a quarter used it to actually check an applicant via Google or Facebook — and only when there’s a reason to flag the application.

But with the practice out there, the guidance counselors warned us that these days, anything and everything that students post online is fair game, giving us all reason to worry about our kids’ Facebook (and our own profiles too).

What next? My feeling is we should keep on shuttling around the Internet — but with greater self-awareness. And, wariness.


NOTE ADDED Oct. 9, Tuesday: Am I intuitive or what? This post went up at 12:01 a.m. on Monday. Hours later, Kaplan put out a new study — I had no idea it was coming out! Anyways, the report notes that admissions officers are increasingly Googling student applicants, etc., and finding stuff that they don’t like. Here’s a quote from the new report:  

Results from Kaplan Test Prep’s 2012 survey of college admissions officers* show that schools are increasingly discovering information on Facebook and Google that negatively impact applicants’ acceptance chances. While the percentage of admissions officers who took to Google (27%) and checked Facebook (26%) as part of the applicant review process increased slightly (20% for Google and 26% for Facebook in 2011) from last year, the percentage that said they discovered something that negatively impacted an applicant’s chances of getting into the school nearly tripled – from 12% last year to 35% this year. Offenses cited included essay plagiarism, vulgarities in blogs, alcohol consumption in photos, things that made them “wonder,” and “illegal activities.” In 2008, when Kaplan began tracking this trend, only one in 10 admissions officers reported checking applicants’ social networking pages. 


Comments 8

  1. Post

    What a thrill — Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia University’s chief digital officer, has linked to this post on his personal Facebook profile (which you can subscribe to, btw). So welcome, Sree’s friends!

    And for those of you interested in teen issues, I have another post you must, must read: “How NOT to get arrested in NYC.” It’s written by a guest blogger, Legal Aid lawyer Alan Gordon who works with a lot of kids. Even good kids get in trouble, esp since cops are on the lookout for ways to arrest them. https://bettymingliu.com/?s=arrested

  2. When my son was a Senior in High School, the kids changed their names on their Facebook profiles to aliases which only their friends knew. That way colleges couldn’t snoop !

  3. Teens – and everyone on Facebook – need to be constantly aware of their privacy settings. If they have their Facebook pages locked down for friends-only and have their settings tweaked along the same lines, nobody (including colleges) would have access to them anyway.

    That said, everyone should be aware that what they post online can come back to haunt them, no matter what the privacy setting may be.

  4. This amazes me. It’s very similar to prospective employers examining Facebook and doing internet searches on job candidates. I’m trying to imagine some kind of equivalent from the pre-internet age …

    Would it have been fair for college admissions boards to say, “We want to see your recent yearbooks so we can find out what your friends who signed it wrote about you. Oh, and we need to see what you wrote in everyone else’s yearbooks too. Also, we need photographs from your scrapbook and your friends’ scrapbooks.”

    But what do I know? I’ve never hired anybody and I’ve certainly never been on a college admissions board. It all just seems intrusive to me. Besides, don’t a lot of entries on social media need explaining? If somebody comments on a picture of my friends and me at club: “Hey, wasn’t this the night you snorted a line of coke off that hooker’s tits?” … it would be a joke. But Nosy Q. McStuffybutt on the selection committee doesn’t know that.

    On top of it all, aren’t there settings on Facebook that prevent anyone but “friends” from seeing any posts, comments, or photos at all?

  5. Post

    Annamia, My bigger “problem” is that I have a teenager in the house. Haha! It’s just the reality of this whole stage. Thanks for the observation. :)

    Carol, yes, the kids are starting to change their names to aliases here too. The other thing a friend of mine pointed out is that Google is also an issue for our children. If a recruiter wants to casually Google a student’s name and stuff comes up, it better not be crap that they’re seeing.

    MandyJ, so true. That’s why even the comments that people leave on blogs are an issue. Twitter, FB, everything. It all matters. Always be aware that once your words are out there, they can be found. An FBI agent once told me that even if your comments, etc. are deleted, a good investigator can dig them up.

    Doug, even with privacy settings on FB, can’t you be found if you’ve been tagged in a photo on the profile of someone who doesn’t have privacy settings? Btw, if I had a company or if I was recruiting, I would definitely Google every candidate if possible.

    There are things people just don’t tell you. And it’s not only about being secretive or sneaky. Maybe the info isn’t relative to the application. And it could be a positive discovery too — about a person’s hobbies or passions that they just didn’t think was worth making note of in an official way.

    1. Post

      Well, Gregory, you and me both. But I would’ve failed the Facebook test because if the recruiters checked my profile, they would’ve probably found a really boring, nerdy kid. Life is much better for me now and it would seem from your FB page, the same is true for you.

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