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While a good percentage of colleges look at applicants' social media accounts, Penn does not take them into consideration.

Credit: Lizzy Machielse

High school seniors applying to Penn: don’t bother changing your name on Facebook, admissions won’t be checking your page.

Social media profiles have played an increasing role in colleges’ decision-making, and sparked fear in the hearts of high school seniors who change their privacy settings and names on Facebook to evade admissions officers. 

The line between what is public and private is hard to traverse: recently CNN reported that students should not delete all of their party photos because "colleges like to see that you're a well-rounded person with a healthy social life."

Despite the hype, social media profiles are generally not used by Penn as a factor for deciding admission.

“We’re not going to systematically go through students’ social media sites,” said Dean of Admissions Eric Furda. “We’re not going to sit here and try to do forensics on your social media.”

Penn received 37,000 applications last year, and pursuing each student’s social media account would be a logistical impossibility.

“I could probably sit here and look at 100 students’ that applied last year and be fascinated and appalled,” said Furda, “But we’re just not doing it.”

Furda said it was more likely that applicants would invite the Admissions Office into their social media sites through links to their YouTube videos or other projects.

Another possibility is that one of an applicant’s followers on social media will tip off a university about a potentially incendiary post on an applicant’s page.

“Parents of other students or other students write something to admission,” said Laurie Kopp Weingarten, director of admissions counseling at One-Stop College Counseling. “I’ve spoken to several admission officers who say that once they get a letter like that, they feel an obligation to look and there have been kids who’ve lost their admission because somebody alerted them to something that was bad.”

Although Penn normally does not use social media to judge its applicants, other schools do with varying standards for decorum. Weingarten warned that while applying to certain schools, even mildly offensive photographs could lead to great consequences.

“Even just a picture of someone sticking their tongue out like Miley Cyrus,” said Weingarten, citing a story about a college recruit who lost their position at a university for posting such a photo.

What is considered acceptable changes between institutions, often at the discretion of the admissions board.

“Every admissions officer is different: Some are older, some are younger, some are more liberal, some are more conservative,” she said.

College senior Danielle Pi agreed with Penn’s policy to generally not look at prospective student’s social media profiles.

“I don't think it's fair,” said Pi, “because social media profiles are not indicative of a person's ambitions, intellectual curiosity or social responsibility, which are factors that are actually relevant to assessing a college applicant. To me, looking at social media profiles feels like college admissions overstepping boundaries.”

However, even though Penn generally doesn’t use social media to judge its applicants, Weingarten estimated that about 30 to 40 percent of colleges do.

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