The next time you unsuccessfully search for a friend on Facebook, consider if he or she is in the process of applying to college.
On top of fretting about leadership experience and essays, high school students have encountered the next wave of admissions paranoia: scrambling to alter Facebook names and profiles so they are unsearchable to admissions officers.
But Dean of Admissions Eric Furda unraveled this myth, explaining that Penn admissions officers do not check applicants’ Facebook pages or other social networking sites as part of the admissions process.
“We are not systematically going into Facebook or other social networking sites to investigate or discover new information about our applicants,” Furda said.
He attributed this mainly to practicality, as the Penn application is comprehensive and asks many questions that admissions officers spend a “solid amount of time” evaluating.
Furda did concede, however, that admissions officers read applications online, and that Facebook and other social networking sites are a mere “click away.”
Sally Rubenstone, a senior advisor at College Confidential, agreed in an e-mail that admissions officers do not look at Facebook profiles as “a routine part of the evaluation process.”
She said that such an investigation is mostly done when there is a “red flag or unanswered question in the application itself that might spur an admission official to seek more information about an applicant.”
Furda said such a measure might be used when the admissions office occasionally receives anonymous letters saying that a student did not represent himself accurately. Similarly, Rubenstone explained that Facebook can clarify inconsistencies in an applicant’s application.
Emily Simmons, Assistant Dean of Admissions at Emory University, wrote in an e-mail, “if a student specifically mentions his or her Facebook site in his or her application or personal essay, we would be very likely to visit the site.”
Otherwise, she said, it is not possible to review every applicant’s Facebook page, as there simply is not enough time.
Still, she cautioned, it’s always “best to err on the safe side” online, for future employment and graduate schools as well as college. “What is posted online stays online indefinitely, and students should make sure they are presenting themselves in the best light possible, she said”
Simmons and Furda said that with the advent of technology and the move to online applications — almost 100 percent of Penn applications are online — admissions officers might incorporate Facebook and other social networking sights as part of the admissions process in the future.
“The way we get information is constantly changing” and admissions must meet those needs, Furda said.
Simmons echoed this sentiment, saying “as technology improves with the way we process our applications, this may be something we would pursue in the future on a large scale.”
According to Rubenstone, the media has exaggerated and promulgated this issue, causing hysteria among high school applicants.
“There have been tons of article in the media in the past couple of year warning students to clean up their Facebook act,” she wrote.
She also wrote that applicants are confused by recent college marketing strategies that include reaching out to high school students through Facebook.
For instance, Rubenstone wrote, “many colleges now have special Facebook groups for prospective applications” and go so far as to friend prospective students.
Jeffrey Durso-Finley, Director of college counseling at the Lawrenceville School, disagreed. “It is 99 percent viral rumor … admissions officers are carefully instructed not to friend applications at any point, so given security, there is really no need to change names,” he wrote in an email. “It is a non-issue,” he reiterated.
Regardless, many students are cautious of the way they present themselves online.
Kevin Beckoff, a freshman in the College, said “you never know if an admissions officer will check you out on Facebook and find a reason to dismiss everything else you have submitted.”
In his application to Penn, he “wanted them to see the best portfolio” of him and “nothing else.”
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