September 26, 2008

Despite Trends, Cornell Does Not Consider Facebook in Admissions

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In addition to the common application and letters of recommendation to worry about, today’s college-bound students should give their Facebook profiles a second thought.
A Kaplan survey of 320 admissions officers from the country’s 500 top colleges and universities has uncovered that 10 percent of admissions officers have visited an applicant’s social networking site as part of their decision making process.
Also, according to that same Kaplan survey, 21 percent of colleges surveyed utilized social networking sites in order to learn about and recruit applicants. With more and more colleges factoring social networking sites into their evaluation process, most schools surveyed have no official policies regarding the use of social networking sites and have no plans to develop them.
In fact, it is this ambiguity and lack of policy that seems most frightening to prospective students. Without any policy in place, applicants cannot know whether their online individual sites will be visited, judged and weighed as part of their application. Additionally, with no defined policy, many schools permit admissions officers to visit individual sites for distinct reasons, while not reporting it as part of their official assessment process.
At Cornell, Jason Locke, director of undergraduate admissions, stated in an e-mail, “Cornell University does not use social networking sites (in any systematic way) in the college admissions process.”
However, he added, “It is possible that an individual Facebook or MySpace page may come to [their] attention, but this would be an exception rather than the rule.”
While there is certainly a difference between simply looking at social networking sites and using them in the decision process, visiting a student’s site will somehow influence or bias the admissions officer.
Erica Rhodin ’12, noted that with “thousands of qualified applicants with identical credentials, it would be impossible for a site like Facebook or Myspace not to affect an admissions officer’s opinion.”
For those schools that do have policies on the use of social networking sites, generally the policy is not to look at them or to factor them into the overall assessment. Also, university admissions officers know that often times information posted on a student’s social networking site is not true.
Unfortunately for prospective students, the use of social networking sites does not seem to have an overall positive impact on admissions evaluations. In fact, 38 percent of admissions officers reported that applicants’ social networking sites had a negative impact on their overall evaluation as compared to only 25 percent who reported that these sites had a positive impact.
While many students and their parents believe that factoring social networking sites into admissions decisions is unfair, sneaky and a violation of privacy, other students like Bradford Aymes ’12 believe that “if you display your information publicly then anyone has the right to look at and judge it.”
Yet, to make it more difficult for admissions officers to track them down, many current Cornell students reported that, come senior year of high school, they quickly changed their names on Facebook and Myspace.
While students at Cornell are free from undergraduate application stress, Cornell seniors live in a state of worry over graduate school and job applications.
For this, the stakes seem even higher and the stress seems worse than ever before. According to Kaplan surveys of admissions officers at law, medical and business schools, 15 percent of law schools, 14 percent of medical schools and 9 percent of business schools surveyed report having looked at applicants’ social networking sites during the decisions making process. Furthermore, many employers check social networking sites before hiring new employees.
With the predominance of social networking sites it seems inevitable that colleges, graduate schools and employers will take advantage of this information. Therefore, prospective students and employees will have to decide what is most important: the number of tagged photos on their profile or their future.