College admissions officers view student online profiles

Though no one will publicly admit to doing it themselves, a number of college admissions officers and deans have addressed the practice of viewing applicant’s profiles on social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Livejournal.

On the other hand, several admissions officers have also begun utilizing these sites as a tool to connect with applicants, as a means of answering questions and as a way to disseminate information about their school. 

Admissions officers want a way to distinguish between candidates who otherwise look similar on paper, and get a feel for who they really are.

 “I’ve heard of admissions officers Googling kids,” Dean Cahn Oxelson said, explaining how a search engine could be used both to glean more information about a candidate and to verify whether an outlandish accomplishment listed on an application is true.

 Beyond utilizing networking sites to help flesh out a paper application into something resembling a person,  Dean Sharon Cuseo said admissions officers might seek information about an application on the internet as a way to fill in the blanks when “something just doesn’t add up” about an application.

 Cuseo, like Oxelson, stressed that though this does occur, it is, for the most part, a relatively uncommon way of doing things. 

With the exploding number of applicants to selective schools, admissions officers don’t have time to seek every applicant out online. 

 A number of admissions officers who have addressed the issue (admissions representatives from the University of Virginia and Massachusetts Institute of Technology both published blogs on the subject) made a point of saying how busy they are and how unfeasible it would be to look up every student. 

In a blog entry published on April 25, “Dean J” an admissions officer at UVA said, “we don’t really have time to search for all 16,000 applicants online. However, if an applicant mentions involvement in something in particular, we might just take a look at it.”
Former USC admissions representative and Dean Beth Slattery said “I think that [the focus on online networking sites] started because one particular admissions officer at Harvard admitted to doing it.”

Slattery added that “the reaction for most people when they heard about it was to be a little horrified, just because they felt like they should be evaluating kids on the app they turned in.”

Slattery, who said that as an admissions officer she “wouldn’t have felt comfortable using Facebook,” brought up the inherent question of ethics underscoring using something she calls “intended for a different audience and taken out of context” to decide whether students are worthy of acceptance.

Ben Jones, an MIT admissions officer, addressed the subject in a July 11 blog entry on the MIT website.

 “The MIT admissions office does not engage in this practice because it’s essentially an invasion of privacy, sites like Facebook are designed to be a community, a playground, etc. for students, not designed to be a spying tool for Big Brother. To use them as the latter is, in my opinion, not terribly ethical. Admissions officers should get involved in these communities if they want to help applicants with the process, with the match – not if they’re out to use what they find there to hurt them.”

 Like Jones, who has made himself available to students through Friendster, Facebook, LiveJournal, Xanga and MySpace, there are a growing number of admissions officers utilizing these sites to assist students in the process.

Todd M. Olson, outreach program director and assistant dean of admissions at Carleton College, graduated from Carleton in 1997, so he uses an alumni facebook page to stay in touch with prospective applicants he meets while touring and answer their questions. 
Olson said he uses his Facebook page to put students in touch with contacts he has at other colleges they want to learn about, stressing that his role as an admissions officer is as much about the process of helping kids find a college as anything else. 
Olson also made it clear that “because of the way I put myself out there, [a student’s Facebook page] wouldn’t affect my decision.”

 “The more a school can do to help applicants learn the true culture of a place, what drives it and what fuels the imagination and creativity of its student body, the more likely the applicant will be to make an informed decision as to whether or not he/she will truly be happy there over the next four years,” Jones said. “That’s what I mean when I talk about helping applicants, admissions officers should be using the internet to help applicants evaluate their schools and that match; not the other way around, where schools use the internet to evaluate applicants in some way.”

“Ultimately I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a Myspace, Facebook, etc.” Oxelson said.

“But, what’s personal is public,” he added, underscoring an idea brought up by Elisabeth Smith ’07.

 “On MySpace I made my profile ‘friends only’ because I heard about this [privacy issues] and I was concerned a little about softball coaches seeing it,” Smith said.  Smith, a Varsity softball player, explained that although her coaches had never specifically brought up social networking sites with the team, she’d heard about sports coaches having issues with them. 

“I’ve had my MySpace for a while,”  she said, “and I’m sure there are a lot of inappropriate language and comments.” Smith considered the topic for a moment and then said, “I guess over all, the notion that colleges could look is there, but I really don’t care that much.  I don’t have revealing pictures or anything like that. I don’t really have anything to hide.”
Smith, who also has a Facebook, said that although she thoroughly enjoys using the site there are aspects to it that can be a little unnerving.

“It was so weird,” she said.  “Today I was taking a practice SAT, and some girl from Crossroads introduced herself to me and she said, ‘Wait. Wait. You seem so familiar. Ah, this will sound so creepy, but I’ve been to your Facebook.”
“It was really creepy,” Smith said, but despite her misgivings about possible privacy concerns she still doubted admissions officers would “actually go out of their way to find one specific person.”

“And the way I see it,” she said, “the application is designed for admissions officers to learn about applicants,  not those applicants’ Facebooks.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login