At first, Lauren untags herself from any photos with red cups in sight. Next, she replaces obscene rap lyrics with sayings by Thoreau in her “Favorite Quotes” section. And finally, just minutes before hitting the “submit” button on the Common App, she changes the spelling of her name on Facebook to Loryn in an attempt at anonymity. Lauren isn't entering the witness protection program or hiding from the FBI – she's simply using caution while applying to colleges. But do college admissions officers truly Facebook-stalk all incoming applicants? To what extent should you do a little Facebook spring-cleaning? Are there any red flags on your profile, and if so, how can you fix them? Her Campus sat down with Shawn Abbott, Assistant Vice President for Undergraduate Admissions at NYU, to learn more about what role Facebook plays in the college application process.
How do college admissions officers use Facebook?
A 2011 Kaplan study shows that nearly a quarter of colleges view their applicants' social media presence when reviewing applications. However, if you're worried about college admissions officers picking through your Facebook profile with a fine-toothed comb, take comfort in the fact that admission committees aren't likely to spend hours looking through your junior varsity volleyball photo album or scrolling through status updates dating back to 2009.
While admissions officers do check for obvious no-nos – wall posts from friends along the lines of, “I can't believe how out of control you were last night,” and explicit profile pictures – the goal of the search isn't to get applicants into trouble. “Admission counselors search for students on Google and other search engines – sometimes out of curiosity and sometimes to verify claims that an applicant will make in his or her application with regard to leadership or involvement with a particular organization or activity,” says Abbott. Considering this angle, keeping your profile easily accessible and searchable might actually work to your advantage – as long as your profile is clean. “I treat my profile as a way for college admissions officers to get to know me outside of my academic accomplishments,” says Meg Enciso, an HC High School Ambassador from Ontario.
Considering the high volume of applications each school receives, there's simply no time to launch extensive internet investigations on every applicant. “If I can't find someone on Facebook, I certainly don't spend an extraordinary amount of time hunting them down,” says Abbott. If you change your name on Facebook, you may be able to dodge the profile scan. Don't let a new Facebook name lull you into a false sense of security, though; Abbott warns, “We sometimes receive screen shots of internet activity that can be called into question.”
How are pre-collegiettes dealing with this issue?
“When I was in high school, I didn't change my Facebook at all during college admissions,” says Caitlin Fernandez, a Her Campus Branch Manager, Campus Correspondent, and Virginia Tech sophomore. It appears that as Facebook becomes more widespread, students are becoming more cautious with their online presence. “Most of my friends have either deleted their accounts or intensified their privacy settings,” says Deborah Vasquez, an HC High School Ambassador from Florida.
Some students strive to keep their profile out of sight by changing their Facebook name. While some opt for unusual spellings or replacing their first or last names with words (e.g., Olivia Sunshine), others replace their last name with their middle name. Kiley K., an HC High School Ambassador from Connecticut, says, “I use my middle name as my last because I don't want people who don't personally know me friend requesting me or checking out my profile, especially college admissions officers!”