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Three-Sixty Journalism: Uh-oh: Some college admissions staffs check Facebook

THREESIXTY JOURNALISM

College Application? Check. ACT score? Check. College essay? Check. Recommendations? Check. Facebook page? Check?

It’s college application time and as seniors put their final touches on their applications, a report from earlier this fall is showing that they may have one more thing to worry about — their social networking pages.

In September, Kaplan, a company offering ACT and SAT test preparation, released a survey that showed one in 10 admissions counselors at the country’s top 500 colleges were using social networking sites, such as Facebook or MySpace, as part of the admissions process.

Marlyn McGrath, director of admissions at Harvard College, said admissions counselors at her college don’t check social networking sites on a regular basis, but if they note anything in a student’s application that raises a possible red flag, they will. “If students make it public it’s public information,” she said.

Tips from C.L. Lindsay for staying out of trouble online, author of “The College Student’s Guide to the Law: Get a Grade Changed, Keep Your Stuff Private, Throw a Police-Free Party, and More!”

Do not include a physical address anywhere online. The fewer personal numbers you give, the better.

Limit your personal info because it could lead to identity theft.

Don’t stand out as a target on your profile page. (If you are drinking alcohol from a cup, don’t say so.)

Set all privacy settings to the highest possible levels.

NO photos of illegal activity, drug use, underage drinking, or violence.

Be smart about your profile picture! Both private and public colleges have the right to look at everything you post online.

Don’t join or start stupid/inappropriate groups. Even they can get you into trouble.

Make your pictures private so only your friends can see them, and only befriend people you know and trust!

McGrath said because the Ivy League school receives so many applications — 27,462 last year at Harvard — the demand for all information available pushes the university to turn to social networking sites.

McGrath said admissions counselors who are checking social networking sites are mostly looking for content that people would find objectionable like racist comments, or would raise concerns about the student. “If we thought someone was a psychopath, we’d be disinclined to admit them,” she said.

She also said students who post self-incriminating information online show a lack of common sense.

Here in Minnesota, some schools are following this trend. The College of Saint Benedict & Saint John’s University is one of them.

“We do not have an official policy of looking up Facebook pages for every prospective student. While we do not make an attempt to look at prospective student’s Facebook or MySpace pages, if we were made aware of offensive and/or violent content on a prospective student page, we would most likely take that into consideration as we make admission decisions,” said Matthew Bernie, director of admissions at the colleges.

According to the Kaplan report, the social networking sites had a positive impact 25 percent of the time on admission, while 38 percent of the time it had a negative affect.
Many students feel checking social networking profiles is wrong for colleges to do.

“I think [Facebook] is misleading and they shouldn’t judge people based on what’s on their Facebook because that’s [a place to be] unprofessional,” said senior Cierra Cannon, who is currently in the process of applying to schools as well as an avid Facebook user.

“I know Facebook is a public domain and they have a right to do it, but I think that they shouldn’t,” said Evelyn Jensen, a senior.
But some schools are drawing a line.

Schools such as Macalester College, Hamline University, and Winona State University do not use Facebook as part of their process for applicants. Macalester’s reasons for not using it ranges from the large amount of applications the school receives to keeping private and public life separate.

“I don’t think we’re particularly interested in doing it any more than we’d hop in the car and drive by their house to see if they’ve cut the grass or put their bicycle away in the garage. Frankly, it’s none of our business,” said Lorne Robinson, dean of admissions and financial aid at Macalester College.

Incidents like the one last year in Eden Prairie, when 13 students were punished when school administrators found photos on Facebook of the students drinking, have caused controversy over how social networks should be used.

“I always tell students that they should be careful what they put on social networking pages. If it is something that you would not want parents, grandparents, colleges, potential employers, or others to see I would hesitate to post it on a place called the World Wide Web because it might not be as private as some people think, even with ‘privacy’ controls,” Bernie said.

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