To Friend or Not To Friend: Social Networking and College Admissions

Published Apr 08, 2010

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It's the latest Facebook trend: 'friending' college admissions departments. According to a recent Kaplan survey, over 70% of college admissions officers said they received MySpace or Facebook friend requests from applicants. This isn't a huge surprise in a world where online social networking has replaced the power lunch and total strangers often become best Internet friends. But is it a good idea?

Social Networking on the Web

Using Facebook to impress schools may seem like a kid's move, but high school students aren't the only ones seeking to connect with new schools online. Kaplan reports the same phenomenon at 50% of business schools, 48% of law schools and 31% of medical schools.

And why not? The college admissions process can be tough. With so many people vying for relatively few spots, it takes more than good grades and high test scores to get accepted into good schools. Applicants have long searched for ways to stand out, from performing community service to enrolling in extracurricular activities to sending in 'audition' videos explaining why they're the best fit for the school. So it's only natural that 21st century students would use all the new digital tools at their disposal - including Facebook.

Facebooking

But while social networking may seem like a fun way to get attention, it can also be dangerous. You want admissions officers to associate your name with that groundbreaking essay you wrote, not pictures of you exercising questionable judgment at your birthday party. Since most people post very personal information on their profiles, many college counselors recommend that you avoid networking with admissions officers. Others take it a step further - because it can be difficult to control the content that ends up being associated with you online, some people suggest taking your profile down altogether.

Student editing her online profile

Here are a few ideas for students who still want to try their hand at using the Web to connect with prospective schools:

Tip: Many of these suggestions apply just as well to recent graduates who want to use social networking to help with the job search.

1. Start from scratch.

The safest way to network professionally online is to create a whole new profile. Use your real name and your most professional email address (hint: try something other than c00lch1ck@gmail.com). Then keep this profile clean enough for your grandma to see - friend your teachers, not your 'IRL' friends, and make sure that the only pictures you upload are G-rated. Then pepper this profile with things straight from your application essay. For example, your 'about me' section shouldn't just read 'hard worker who loves to learn,' it should say 'accomplished cellist with a passion for animals.' The key is to make it your own - you want this profile to show you off as a smart, professional individual who would never dance on top of the bar just for a photo op.

2. Use your privacy filters.

If for some reason you'd rather use the same profile, create a filtered list for potential bosses or admissions officers. Then make sure that people on this list can't see anything you can't - or don't want to - control. That includes photos tagged of you, your wall, your status updates, etc. All people on this filter should see is that sweetly smiling profile pic and your impressive education and work info.

Tip: This works better on Facebook than MySpace - whatever your preferred social networking site, be sure to learn how to fine tune your privacy settings. And don't forget that there are always ways around privacy filters, so if you really want to be safe, just don't put any embarrassing content online at all.

3. Beef it up.

Now that you've got your (old or new) profile ready for prying eyes, it's time to boost your public image. Post pictures of you doing approved activities like volunteering at the soup kitchen, arguing in debate club, playing sports, etc. If you're using a site like Twitter, make sure you're following feeds that cover current events and issues related to your field of study. The goal is to impress people who are checking what you're doing, what you're looking at and whom you're friending.

4. Become a fan.

The final step is to give back some digital love. Start or join a group for applicants to your school or program where prospective students can be supportive and share stories and tips. If you're 100% sure where you want to go, look for a fan page for your school or program. Make sure to post interesting stories or links on the page once in a while so that when the admissions officer looks at your application, he or she remembers that great article you sent them a week ago.

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