Manage Your Online Persona

Medical schools may soon take your digital doppelganger into account when making admissions decisions.

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You've probably heard a lot about social networking and job hunting; it is widely thought that many recruiters in business conduct informal background checks using information they can find easily on the Internet, particularly on search engines and social networking websites.

It's important to consider the impact of your online presence before you begin the medical school application process. Even if medical school admissions committees are not aware of your online activities, it is helpful to know what information may be readily available to schools while you are applying.

[See U.S. News's rankings of Best Medical Schools.]

Here are a few important points to keep in mind when dealing with this issue:

1. Many people apply to medical school. Admissions officers at schools ranging from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine indicate that the sheer number of applicants prevents any meaningful social networking screening process from being implemented, and imply that creating such a process would be a Herculean effort.

Admissions officials note that if your application does not raise any red flags or any other significant questions, your online profile will probably not be examined. Admissions officials point out that they simply lack the staff to screen the 6,000- to- 7,000 applicants they have received in recent years on search engines or social networking sites.

[See what college admissions experts think about Facebook.]

2. Social networking sites are more accessible than ever. Though admissions officers cite time as a key factor for not using social networking sites as a routine part of their screening process, they acknowledge that it is easier now than ever to access an applicant's online profile.

Currently, it seems that admissions officials are not inclined to monitor these websites. "I've used Facebook once," says Gaye Sheffler, director of admissions and financial aid at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "And that was to contact an accepted applicant we couldn't get a hold of."

[See the 10 medical schools with the lowest acceptance rates.]

3. The role of an applicant's online presence is expected to grow. Many believe that it is only a matter of time before screening search engines and social networking sites becomes the norm in the medical school application process. "A recent poll of medical school admissions officers indicated that at least 10 percent of them used these media," says Raquel Arias, interim associate dean of admissions at USC's Keck School of Medicine. "I would expect this to become more a part of the process in the future," Arias added.

It appears that the trend seen in the business world of checking online profiles may spread to medical schools. "We don't have the time to check Facebook," Sheffler says. "But I know that some schools do, and I would guess that in the future more of them will."

Though online screening does not currently appear to be routine at many medical schools, it's enduring presence means it is important to examine to what extent you are mentioned online and how that could affect your desired career.

Ibrahim Busnaina, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and coauthor of "Examkrackers' How To Get Into Medical School." He has been consulting with prospective medical school applicants, with a special focus on minority and other nontraditional candidates, since 2006.