Facebook, Myspace, and College Admissions

social-network1.jpgLast year, I noted that employers and others were increasingly looking at applicants’ social network website profile pages in their hiring decisions. Apparently, now college admissions officers are also using social network sites like Facebook and MySpace to make decisions on applicants. According to the Wall St. Journal:

A new survey of 500 top colleges found that 10% of admissions officers acknowledged looking at social-networking sites to evaluate applicants. Of those colleges making use of the online information, 38% said that what they saw “negatively affected” their views of the applicant. Only a quarter of the schools checking the sites said their views were improved, according to the survey by education company Kaplan, a unit of Washington Post Co.

Some admissions officers said they had rejected students because of material on the sites. Jeff Olson, who heads research for Kaplan’s test-preparation division, says one university did so after the student gushed about the school while visiting the campus, then trashed it online. Kaplan promised anonymity to the colleges, of which 320 responded. The company surveyed schools with the most selective admissions.

The article notes that most colleges don’t have policies with regard to when and how college admissions officers can use social network website profiles in making admissions decisions. The article illustrates that we need to make much greater progress in educating what I call “Generation Google” — the generation currently in high school and college who are chronicling their own lives and those of their classmates online — about the risks, consequences, and ethics of what they post on the Internet.

Moreover, many companies and college and graduate school admissions officers lack a policy or guidelines about the appropriate and inappropriate use of what they find online about a candidate. Policies are sorely needed, as there are many issues that need to be thought about:

* Should such information be used? When?

* How heavily should it be relied upon?

* What kinds of things should negatively impact an applicant? Information about sex life? Drug use? Drinking? Bad behavior?

* What steps should be taken to make sure that the information was accurate?

* Should a distinction be made between information that people post about themselves and information that others have posted about them, perhaps invading their privacy without their consent?

* What steps should be taken to make sure that the information used in fact relates to the applicant and not to somebody else with the same name?

* Should people be notified that information online was used against them and be given an opportunity to be heard to explain it?

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5 Responses

  1. A reader says:

    You know, I’ve often thought that there’s a real advantage in the way law schools tend to do admissions – GPA, LSATs, some other things in the margin. Undergraduate schools are a little creepy in the way they attempt to evaluate the whole of an 18-year-old’s life. Do they have a sufficiently compelling narrative to write into an essay? Are they well-rounded enough or, conversely, too well-rounded and not focused on any one thing? And now, what are their favorite books, movies, and what’s their alcohol consumption like?

    Which is not to say I think it’s necessarily a bad thing to look at a job applicant’s Facebook or MySpace profile to get a sense of their judgment or discretion. It’s just, colleges already use a lot of broad factors to evaluate kids applying for admission, many of which aren’t super relevant to academic performance. Adding more seems to make the whole process even more weirdly all-encompassing, and it can only increase the extent to which high achieving kids feel like they have to shape literally every aspect of their lives around being evaluated by colleges.

  2. Tyler says:

    One thing I wonder is how much looking at Facebook or MySpace profile can affect the decision to admit based on factors that should not be considered such as race, disability or even attractiveness. That is not to say that they would explicitly consider these things, but just that they might bias a decision.

    Also, in the way of safeguards, what if it isn’t just someone else with the same name, but if someone intentionally creates a profile with another individual’s name and other identifying information and then includes content to make that person look bad. I know I’ve seen profiles that were not created by the subject of the profile, and while those were just innocuous jokes, it could be much more serious in the world of very competitive schools.

  3. Indy says:

    I would actually be interested if you have any thoughts about how it might work in reverse. For instance, a lawyer, properly concerned about privacy, does not have profiles on social networking sites. Lawyer applies to firm. Firm searches common social networking sites for lawyer’s profile, finds nothing. Firm rejects lawyer in part because he does not have such profiles. Firm’s Possible Rationale: Lawyer is unwilling to network, too introverted, etc. Do you see any danger of this type of thing happening, as we increasingly see an erosion of the meaning of privacy and the creation of social norms encouraging “publication” of personas?

  4. Bradjward says:

    This whole survey is blown way out of proportion. Here are my thoughts:

    http://squaredpeg.com/index.php/2008/09/22/10-of-admission-counselors/

  5. Zac says:

    To reference Solove’s book “the future of reputation,” he speaks of how individuals have many different identities that depend upon the environment the person is in. In public you act different than you would by yourself and the same goes for if you’re around your parents as to your friends.

    I think that employers or admission deans using facebook, myspace, or blogs as a factor in hiring or granting admission is mixing the identities that individuals have. Obviously these sources give some insight into a person, but usually it gives insight into the wrong aspect of that person’s identity.

    Mixing these identities is dangerous because it portrays people’s identities out of context. A person on facebook that depicts themselves at wild parties cannot be assumed to be an employee that will exhibit poor performance. These two areas of an individuals life should remain separate whether or not they are in public.

    In response to Bradjward’s link. Even if the survey demonstrates bad methodology, I think that it still deserves some thought about the implications that are caused by its findings. Assuming admission deans don’t do it as much as Kaplan claims they do, employers using it raises the exact same problems and there is much more evidence of this.