Can online antics hurt students’ chances for college?

Two questions seem to be dominating the discussion in the wake of news that Eden Prairie High School administrators disciplined students whose pictures — allegedly showing them drinking — were posted on the social networking site, Facebook: “what were you thinking?” and “what’s the number for our lawyer?”

There’s another question, however. “Do I hurt my chances of getting into college by posting stupid things online?”

Yes. Maybe.

First the bad news. A recent survey of 453 admissions departments at colleges and universities in 49 states found one out of four are using blogs, search engines, or social networking sites to evaluate applicants.

“While certainly the traditional factors will still play dominant roles in selecting applicants for admission or rejection, students need to understand that their social network sites are being examined by colleges and universities,” Dr. Nora Barnes, the researcher, said. “The content of their sites could have far-reaching effects on their academic futures if they are not careful.”

The good news for high school partygoers documenting their lives online? In Minnesota, you don’t have to be that careful. A sizeable number of Minnesota colleges don’t use social networking sites to evaluate students. Marsha Schuemaker, internal communications director at St. Cloud State University says the school does not check the online lives of potential students, but she was intrigued enough by the question to contact Linda Kohl, a vice chancellor at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, who said no MnSCU admissions office is using social networking sites in such a way.

The University of Minnesota also does not check online sites for background on applicants, according to university spokesman Dan Wolter.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling offers these tips for high school kids who want to move on to higher education:

  • Make your profile private so that strangers can’t look at your information, and be cautious about adding new friends who you do not personally know.
  • Take down any questionable photos or exchanges between you and your friends. Give it the “Grandma Test.” If you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see it, then you don’t want other adults to either. Remember, pictures and references of you on your friends’ pages can be damaging too. You can ask them to take down this kind of information.

    Social networking sites aren’t merely an investigative tool for higher educators; it’s also a method of recruiting potential students.

    Colby College in Maine, for example, has set up what amounts to its own social networking site — Inside Colby — and encouraged its students to write blogs and post pictures “to give potential applicants an authentic perspective into college life,” according to the Boston Globe.

    • c

      “The content of their sites could have far-reaching effects on their academic futures if they are not careful.”

      I have a hard time believing that any academic institution would hold a comment made by college candidate liable for whether the candidate is accepted into the college. It’s somewhat discrimination and a violation of your freedom of speech. Furthermore, how would they (the schools) know how authentic the supposed original pictures are with all the technology we have in editing photos.