The temptation to say too much about oneself on social networking sites is a well known pitfall for young people. Now high school seniors in the United States could find that ill-judged effusions on Facebook or MySpace pages count against them when they apply for college. A new survey of 500 top colleges found that 10 per cent of admissions officers acknowledged looking at social networking sites to evaluate applicants. Of those making use of the online information, 38 per cent said that what they saw “negatively affected” their view of the applicant. Only a quarter of the schools checking the sites said their views were improved.
Some admissions officers said they had rejected students because of material on the sites. One university did so after a student gushed about the school while visiting the campus, then trashed it online. The survey was done by the education company Kaplan, a division of Washington Post Co. Kaplan promised anonymity to the colleges, of which 320 responded. The company surveyed schools with the most selective admissions.
The vast majority of colleges had no policy about checking websites. Some maintain that applicants’ online data are public information that schools should vet to help protect the integrity of the institutions. Others say they are uncomfortable with the idea of flipping through Facebook pages. Although users can have privacy settings allowing access only to “friends”, many students do not take advantage of this. And while colleges are unlikely to systematically vet all applicants, they may do so after being tipped off or if an application raises a “red flag”.
The dean of admissions at Princeton says, “All of us would consider anything that would cause us to doubt a student’s character.” Her counterpart at the State University of New York at Binghamton says she instructs her staff to ignore website postings, which amount to street-corner banter among young people who are “experimenting” and need time to grow up.
Of course, there’s always scope for a smart student to tweak their profile to impress a college official. One 17-year-old says he won’t mention that he loves to read X-men comics. His Facebook literary picks currently include Crime and Punishment and Pride and Prejudice. ~ Wall Street Journal, Sep 18