Your college-bound teen’s applications are all in, she’s written her essays and she’s been focusing on a successful senior year — but what’s going on with her Facebook and MySpace profiles? These online profiles may be one aspect of the college admissions process that you’ve never considered, but it is actually more important than you might think.
Facebook is open to everyone, which means anyone can sign up, search for and even “friend” your college-bound teen. A jealous Facebook “friend” who does have access to your teen’s profile could post unflattering comments, tag your teen in questionable photos or even send that material to an admissions officer. You can’t assume that your teen’s Facebook page is secure just because she has privacy settings preventing strangers from seeing her profile.
A representative from one Ivy League school recently reports receiving a number of anonymous Facebook and Google “tips” each year — including photos of students doing things that they shouldn’t be doing, and certainly shouldn’t be posting on the Web. He said that on at least one occasion, an offer of admission has been revoked as a result.
So what should students do to ensure their Facebook profiles don’t have a negative influence on their chances for being admitted to the college of their choice? Here are some tips.
Remove phone numbers and addresses from Facebook. Not only is this a general safety precaution but it also reduces someone’s ability to search for your teen.
Use a friend filter. Chances are, he’s only really using social networking sites to connect with friends, so using a friend filter enables him to only accept requests from people he knows in real life.
Use the “grandparent test.” If she wouldn’t want her grandparents to see a message sent between her and her friends, then she also should not post anything on someone’s wall that she wouldn’t want Grandma — or a college admissions officer — to see. Make sure her friends know about the “grandparent test” policy and follow it.
Untag himself from any questionable photos. After doing so, he should talk to the person who posted the pictures and ask him to take them down. Obviously, it is best to not engage in any behavior that might result in a questionable photo.
Positive Uses of Facebook
While your child’s social networking pages and profiles can have a potentially negative impact on her chances of admission, there are also ways to use these sites to one’s advantage during the admissions process. Facebook, blogs, and Twitter are all about expressing oneself as an individual, which is exactly what many admissions committees want to see. Students must make their Facebook profiles an accurate, yet professional, extension of themselves. Here are some ways students can make the best use of social networking sites.
Be true to herself. Students might want to impress admissions counselors with their Facebook, but they should be sure not to misrepresent themselves.
Show off a little. If your teen is a photographer or an artist, she should post her pictures. If she plays music, she should create a MySpace page devoted to her work. If she likes to write, she should start a blog. This will show admissions counselors that she has a real passion for something, and that she’s proud of her work.
Let Facebook help him stay organized. As he goes through high school, he should use his profile to help him track achievements, jobs, internships, clubs, sports, goals, interests and even his favorite books. Applications for schools like Harvard, Stanford and the University of Chicago ask students what they have read recently, and this can be a great place to help him keep track.
Express interest in the colleges to which she applies. Many colleges are creating pages on Facebook, and she can express interest by “friending” them, or becoming a fan. That said, she should not friend admissions counselors directly, which can be taken as a ploy to increase her chances and do more harm than good.
Encourage your child to follow these simple tips throughout the college admissions process and to remember to police her online identity throughout college, as employers are keeping an eye on social networking sites as well.
Katherine L. Cohen, PhD is CEO and founder of IvyWise, a college admissions counseling company.