Preparing for College

Facebook, MySpace, and College Apps

Let's all turn on a camera into our private lives! Thinking back to my youth (when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I cringe to think of someone taking candid shots of my fun activities and then posting them at the grocery store or post office. What would that have done to my reputation and public image?

Why then do today's high schoolers think it cool to reveal their escapades to the world at large, not just the Safeway or Pathmark crowd, or those lining up to buy stamps? Are today's youth exhibitionists? Do they have an ongoing desire to out-outrageous their peers?

Of course, I'm not talking about all of today's high schoolers. However, there are enough bold and shameless Facebookers and MySpacers out there to have raised a significant issue when it comes to college admissions. A series of recent news items point this out. Here's one sample:

College Admissions Offices Take Social Networking Postings Of Applicants Into Account

High school students spend inordinate amounts of time on Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites. They freely post spontaneous comments and communications, they upload provocative photos, and they send and receive racy videos of themselves and their friends.

Good fun, eh?

Well, there can be some serious repercussions. According to a paper just released by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), fully one fourth of colleges surveyed report that they implement Web search or social networking technology to find out more about applicants to their schools. Perhaps the number of colleges conducting such social networking "research" about prospective students will rise over time.

So, that funny photo on Johnny's Facebook page showing him chugging beer while practically naked and while grabbing several scantily clad girls may come back to bite Johnny when he applies for admission to a prestigious and socially conservative college. Or Jane's striptease video performance on her MySpace page may keep her from being admitted to the college of her choice.

Sure, Johnny and Jane may intend for only their "friends" to see the intimate dirt on their pages, however, that doesn't prevent their "friends" from potentially leaking the content such that it ultimately gets in the hands of college admissions representatives.

Of course, the best advice is to tell teenagers that they should only put on their social networking pages information that they would not mind showing up on the front page of the newspaper. But, is that going to happen? Absolutely not...

Jay Matthews, in an excellent Washington Post article, agrees with this cautionary mindset and lists a conservative approach to social networking sites as #2 on his list of Ten Stupid Ways to Ruin Your College Application:

2. Don't worry about your postings on social networking sites -- college admissions officers understand your need for individual expression and will probably never look at them. I know, I know. What you put on Facebook or Myspace is your private business. College officials appear to share that view. They say they do not make a habit of looking up their applicants. But there are enough exceptions to make me think care should be taken when posting photos from your last rollicking beach party. Not everybody loves you. Those who don't could send anonymous notes to your first-choice school suggesting it inspect a certain Web site. There are no rules that say they can't.

There are also some very interesting comments on the College Confidential discussion forum. Here are a few excerpts from one of the more interesting Facebook-related threads:

- Some of the dumb pictures are accessible to anyone who googles you. There is a completely idiotic photo of my son viewable by all.

- I wonder why so many people feel led to reveal such unflattering (and private) information about themselves on these social networking sites. Sounds like there's a good doctoral thesis in there somewhere.

- Not only are your college admissions folks googling you, but so are the alumni and others who interview you for college. When the time comes, your future employers (including internships) and graduate and professional schools will google you as well. Anything posted on the internet about you is fair game.

- well he better not be checking mine cause I'm a mess.

Get the picture, so to speak? 'Nuff said.

Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.