Will Your Facebook Page Keep You Out of College?

Robyn Tellefsen | April 26, 2012

If you’re applying to college, you’re probably already aware that admissions officers can peep your Facebook profile. Any information that’s been made public on the Internet is, well, public information. Many of us are cognizant of that fact and have blocked our profiles and posts from public consumption. But what if a school asks permission to become part of your friend network – or worse, asks for your password to tool around Facebook as if it were you?

will facebook keep you out of college

No, this isn’t a fictional scenario from George Orwell’s “1984;” it’s a 2012 reality. News and blog sites have been lit up these last few weeks with reports of employers asking job candidates to reveal their social media logins. The public outcry has been loud and clear, with senators, representatives, and Facebook itself decrying the practice as an invasion of privacy. Though House Republicans blocked an amendment to a reform act of the Federal Communications Commission, Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer (NY) and Richard Blumenthal (CT) are pushing for a federal investigation as to whether the practice of employers demanding usernames and passwords is a violation of the Stored Communications Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

While this storm is brewing, we’ve got to wonder how all this Big Brother-esque spying will affect college admissions. The fact is, student athletes are already prone to social media policing. Many schools are requiring athletic prospects to “friend” a coach, granting the school access to friends-only information. At the University of North Carolina, for instance, at least one coach or administrator is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members’ social networking sites and postings. So even when you’re in, the scrutiny goes on.

Colleges may also enlist the help of social media monitoring companies like UDiligence and Varsity Monitor to automate the time-consuming task of digging up your dirt. Programs like these offer a “reputation scoreboard” to coaches and send “threat level” warnings about individual athletes to compliance officers.

While Facebook has taken a firm stance on password-sharing (it’s a no-no), the company has yet to take a position on collegiate social media monitoring. Will this kind of monitoring spread past the athletic department? Word is, it already has.

According to Kaplan Test Prep’s most recent annual surveys (check out the infographic), 20% of college admissions officers, 27% of business school admissions officers, and 41% of law school admissions officers said they have Googled an applicant to learn more about them, while 24% of college admissions officers, 22% of business school admissions officers, and 37% of law school admissions officers have checked out an applicant on Facebook or other social networking site. And the results haven’t been pretty. As it turns out, 12% of college admissions officers, 14% of business school admissions officers, and 32% of law school admissions officers who researched an applicant online said they discovered something that negatively impacted an applicant’s admissions chances.

On the other hand, some colleges, like Kenyon College, explicitly forbid looking beyond what prospective students submit in their applications. Eastern Washington University went so far as blogging about the fact that it will never use Facebook, Twitter, or Google to learn more about applicants.

But it seems that these schools are few and far between.

So what’s a prospective college student to do? Consider using Facebook to your advantage in the admissions process. If colleges are looking – and so many of them are – an online presence that showcases your strengths and achievements may actually boost your admission bid.

–Robyn Tellefsen

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