“It has been reported today that some colleges and universities are refusing to accept students; not only based on your high school grades, transcripts or personal statements, but based on their Facebook profile.”
On April 1, 2011 Zack Whittaker wrote this jaw dropping article for ZDNet. The article finished off with the following editor’s note.
Editor’s note: Before any readers close their Facebook accounts, please be assured that Zack is only kidding. Some bloggers simply can’t resist the lure of April Fools.
So, 3 years later, is there any truth to this outlandish April Fool’s article? Sadly, the answer is yes.
As part of Quantum Prep’s continued commitment to helping our students through the college admissions process we contacted Alvin Joseph, the co-founder and director of the New York office, of the Institute for Internet Safety to learn more about the realities of this disturbing trend.
The Institute for Internet Safety is an independent organization that promotes and supports online privacy and safety for children, teens and young adults.
Their primary focus is educating and assisting students and their families in order to protect young “netizens” from damaging their online reputation specifically as it relates to the college admission process and even future employment prospects.
Alvin, are college admissions administrators actually investigating students online?
A 2012 study indicated that more than one-third of colleges were requiring their admissions officers to search online for information about applicants. This number is only increasing.
Colleges are not only looking to social media to find out who the applicant really is, but they are also using it as part of the admissions process, even asking applicants to submit a YouTube video as part of their college application.
What kind of online behavior might affect a student’s chances of admission?
There are obvious things, such as criminal behavior, public drunkenness or lewdness and racism, but the list is much longer. One should also consider that applications are reviewed by individuals and institutions that have their own values and perceptions of right and wrong.
A good measure is to conduct a simple “Grandma Test” and ask yourself if this is something you would want your grandmother to see or hear.
What are the most common type of mistakes students make?
The most common mistake that students make is not realizing how open and persistent online information can be.
The simple off color, or flippant, comment made by a student might seem harmless if you are talking to a friend, but post that information online and it can take on a life of its own.
The adolescent brain tends not to think about the future, it lives in the now. When you couple that with our instant gratification always on world and you can have a recipe for disaster.
So if you are checking your own online reputation before submitting your college application, how do you know you’ve found everything they will find?
Checking your own online reputation is not quite as simple as one might think.
At any given point in time, you can check to see what is online and make a conscious decision not to post anything questionable, but this does not mean that friends or acquaintances won’t post something you don’t want online.
Consistent monitoring is essential, and that is why automated systems like Student Inspector are important part of the process.
What is Student Inspector?
Student Inspector is a proprietary service provided by the Institute for Internet Safety that uses the power and consistency of our computer algorithms, as well as human oversight, to regularly scan the internet and report back to parents about what we find online.
Our mission is very simple: Catching mistakes or errors in judgment before college admission officers do.
Let’s say you find something less than flattering, what can you do about it?
The answer to this question is not necessarily straightforward. To a significant extent, where the information is posted and how far it has been disseminated determines the best response.
For something as simple as a post on your child’s Facebook page … well that’s easy, simply remove the post. But for the item that has been shared, or has been posted by someone other than your child … we can work with the parents to try and have the information removed.
When information cannot be removed, then the process becomes something akin to a P.R. campaign. We can work to suppress or counter the negative information using methods that are designed to push the unwanted information further down in the search results, or demonstrate that the child has grown and matured since the information was posted. The response is ultimately determined by the situation.
Any final advice you might give to parents or students about managing a student’s reputation online?
Yes, to the students we say: take a minute a think about what you’re about to send into cyberspace. Consider that the internet is permanent and your mistakes will follow you, sometimes for the rest of your life … and don’t forget the “Grandma Test” — don’t post it online if it isn’t something you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.
To the parent we say: Our children are normal and they are not making any mistakes that we didn’t make when we were kids — they’re just doing it in a much more public and persistent way.
Our job is to protect our children, and sometimes that means protecting them from themselves.
We would never send our kids to an unchaperoned party, yet we often allow them online without anyone checking in on them to make sure they are not harming themselves or getting into trouble. We must be the guardians of our children’s future selves.
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For more information about student online reputation and social media management or the Student Inspector program? Contact the Institute for Internet Safety.
For more information about college admissions consulting and the college admissions process, contact Quantum Prep.