'Tis the season. Colleges have sent out their admissions decisions, with prospective students eagerly sorting through acceptances and rejections. This week's question from Derrick L. in New York, N.Y. tackles the question of whether an applicant's social media activity has an effect on college admissions.
Q: Can what I post on Facebook get me rejected from college?
A: Are admissions officers too busy to care about Facebook profiles?
Steve Loflin, founder and CEO, National Society of Collegiate Scholars
Colleges are receiving more applications than ever and it is competitive to get a spot. Knowing that, you should put your energy and effort into making sure you are academically prepared and submitting the strongest application possible. When it comes to Facebook, be smart about your privacy settings and you can control exactly who has access.
Nevertheless, be aware of how your Facebook posts may be interpreted by someone who doesn't know you. You should also know my friends/colleagues who are admissions officers tell me they are too swamped to be checking college applicant Facebook profiles.
[Follow 10 steps to picking the right college.]
A: A racy Facebook profile could ruin your college odds—why risk it?
Michele Hernandez, president and founder, Hernandez College Consulting
Do admissions officers look up every student's page? No, of course not—how could they with 30,000 applicants? However, you can't control the behavior of others. What if a jealous friend was to send a Facebook link to an admissions office in an attempt to sabotage your application? This was a major scandal this year at Choate and several students were expelled/suspended.
Though it's not the norm for admissions officers to actively search out information on a student, they could, especially if there were any warning signs from recommendation letters or any other school information. Admissions officers want students who are upstanding citizens in every way—a salacious Facebook page would be counter to what they are looking for.
A: Don't take the chance—use good common sense.
James Montoya, vice president of higher education, The College Board
One of the important things to keep in mind about selective college admission is that those evaluating applications are real people—often under 30 years old and often Facebook users themselves. Though the evaluation process typically focuses on what is required of applicants—your completed application, transcript, SAT scores, essays, and letters of recommendation—there are no standard professional guidelines that discourage admission officers from viewing an applicant's Facebook page.
So why risk having something posted on your Facebook page that reflects poorly on you? A personal quality that colleges like to see in all applicants is good common sense. Use it in all your interactions with public websites.
[Read 5 do's and don'ts for college students using social media.]
A: While social networking, portray yourself in a responsible manner.
Stacey Kostell, director of admissions, University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign
It is possible that comments posted on social media sites, including Facebook, could affect your admission decision. Admissions counselors at Illinois are tech savvy and monitor our official presence on social networks daily. More than likely, your engagement on such sites would only be reviewed if the admissions counselors had a reason.
For example, we may search your page if another student/parent reported a disturbing post or you wrote something questionable on our admissions/university page. We understand these are social sites, but if any content is posted that could be perceived as threatening or hurtful, we have an obligation to look into it.
A: Facebook can hurt, but also help, when applying to college.
Katherine Cohen, founder and CEO, IvyWise and ApplyWise.com
While admissions officers aren't creating fake Facebook profiles or searching for individual students, they do receive anonymous "tips" regarding inappropriate student conduct online. Often, schools are obligated to investigate and offers of admission may be revoked.
Use the "grandparent test"—if you wouldn't want your grandparents to see it, don't put it online! This applies to your blog, Facebook profile and photos, Twitter tweets, and LiveJournal posts. You can use the Internet to express yourself and show admissions committees your passion. If you're a photographer or artist, post pictures. Musicians, start a MySpace page devoted to your music.
Visit the Unigo Expert Network to see how 35 other experts feel about Facebook and to have your own questions answered.