How High School Students Use Facebook To Fool College Admissions Officers

 

College admissions officers have learned to check applicants' Facebook profiles, and what they see there can have a negative impact on the students' chances. Guess what? The kids are a step ahead of them.

 

Parents, teachers and guidance counselors warn high school students that what they post on Facebook could hurt their chances of getting into college. And according to a Kaplan survey of college admissions officials released last week, it’s not an idle threat: More than one in four respondents said they check Google and Facebook for information on applicants, up from one in 10 when Kaplan started tracking the trend in 2008.

Of those who check, 35% said they have found information that negatively impacted an applicant’s chance of acceptance, up from 12% last year.

“It doesn’t matter,” my 15-year-old niece said over dinner last weekend. “The seniors in my school just hide their profiles or make up a new name and then change it back when they get accepted to college.”

It’s not just the students at her school. My own college-aged students, students at other high schools, and teachers and guidance counselors say that hiding profiles under aliases is just one of the tricks students use to dodge scrutiny during the college application season. Some deactivate profiles, others amp up their privacy settings. And still others are set up a second Facebook profile they call their “ideal self” account.

Admissions Jiu Jitsu

“Why say you went to a party on a Friday night when you can say you volunteered at a soup kitchen? Why say you spent the weekend playing Xbox when you can talk about the new art opening at the museum?” said Brent Busboom, an English teacher at Reno High School and Northern Nevada’s 2007 Teacher of the Year. Reno High is one of the best public high schools in Nevada and many of its students go on to top-tier colleges.

Some contents of ideal-self profiles are legitimate. Others, however, are embellished or exaggerated. Students don’t see an ethical problem, Busboom said. It's just "admissions jiu jitsu."

“Since students don't volunteer this information to the admissions office, they don't see it as lying,” he said. “Instead, they feel that if admissions officers are going to dig up dirt on them by prying in their personal lives, then they are going to game the system and create fake personas for them to discover.”

Silly Rabbit, Tumblr Is For Kids

Facebook is still popular enough that a college admissions official will raise a red flag if a kid claims he or she isn’t on Facebook. And the ideal-self profiles come in handy with certain scholarship sponsors, which have started requiring applicants to accept Facebook friend requests as part of the review process.

Busboom’s account of rampant ideal-self profile setups was confirmed by Sedgrid Lewis, who owns Spy Parent, a company that helps parents monitor their teens’ online activities. It also may partially explain why teens are spending less time on Facebook and adopting other social networks like Twitter and Instagram, or simply favoring the old, reliable SMS message. 

“It started a couple of years ago when adults started taking over Facebook,” Lewis said. “This is why you are seeing more teens cross over to Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Auntie and Grandma are not on those pages.”