Social Web sites used in admissions

Alex Castriota, 18, has never been in love and would rather die
peacefully than in a random accident. According to his MySpace
profile, the Berkeley Preparatory senior who lives in Tampa, Fla.,
fears the unknown and admits that he has had his fair share of drunken moments.Castriota, who applied to TCU but has chosen to attend Southern
Methodist University in the fall, prefers a girl with blond or brown hair to a redhead and doesn’t mind if she indulges in an occasional cocktail. His longest relationship lasted a month, and he recalls being beat up in the sixth grade.

High school seniors wouldn’t consider including this information on a college admissions application, and college graduates certainly wouldn’t provide a potential employer with such details.

So why are students providing a magnifying glass through which thousands of strangers can view their personal lives?

Castriota said he uses MySpace and Facebook to communicate with high school friends and said these Web sites will help him keep in touch with people when he leaves for college.

But who, other than friends and acquaintances, are tapping into
these resources?

With a swift click of the mouse, admissions officers at universities
across the nation can plunge into cyber personality profi les that may contain more explicit material than what appears on admissions applications.

Although TCU admissions officers have utilized Facebook and
MySpace to evaluate the status of prospective students, Raymond
Brown, dean of admissions, said TCU does not rely heavily on thesesocial networking Web sites.

“We will offer admission to a little more than 5,000 applicants this year to enroll our class of 1,600,” Brown said. “It would be an enormous undertaking to try to research even a small fraction of our admitted bunch.”

However, Brown said, there have been circumstances that required admissions officers to explore other avenues of obtaining information on a potential student.

“Actually, the few times we’ve done it is simply to find out a student’s plans for college,” Brown said. “In our most recent query, we sought intelligence on a student who refused to answer our request for further information. We found he was heading to another school and so we were able to discontinue our futile efforts to recruit him.”

Castriota said he believes admissions officers should acquire knowledge on applicants via social networking Web sites.

“It gives them an idea of what someone is like other than what they see on a piece of paper,” Castriota said. “If you post a profile for everyone to read, why should that not include the people reading your application?”

When considering a student for admission, Brown said, admissions staff not only evaluate candidates’ academic record, but also their interests and current lifestyle.

“We seek diversity – in thought, life experiences, race and ethnicity, geography, faith traditions, etc. We seek students who are as good in their hearts as they are in their heads,” he said. “We seek students who want to make a significant contribution to this society; to be productive, responsible citizens. That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

What better way to really get to know an applicant than by surfing his or her personal Web pages?

Emily Aradi, 18, who will be entering TCU in the fall, said she thinks admissions decisions should consider the whole individual, not merely an SAT score or GPA. Although she considers aspects of an individual’s profile to be irrelevant in the admissions process, she thinks the opportunity to convey oneself through artistic measures is a convenient feature.

“Unfortunately, a standardized test cannot express the extent to which a person might be compassionate, driven or talented in other aspects,” said the Saint Francis High School senior from Sacramento, Calif. “By browsing MySpace, officers might better understand an individual’s morals and values. If there is nothing to hide, there should be no fear of this possibility.”

Kristin Vaughn, director of college admissions at Fort Worth Country Day School, said she has been advising students and their parents about the risks of laying all the cards on the table.

“I know institutions are utilizing these Web sites to research potential students, so I encourage students to refrain from posting anything on their personal pages that would misrepresent them or someone else,” she said. “The bottom line is, clean it up.”

Sue Warner, lead counselor for Arlington Heights High School, said she was unaware that universities and employers are using personal Web sites to inquire about applicants.

“We have not been advising our students to clean up their personal pages, but we certainly will now,” she said.

Students may need to do more than “clean it up,” said Jim Mayne, network security engineer for TCU.

“Search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, constantly collect information to store in their database by crawling through every page on the Internet,” Mayne said. “In other words, even though a student deletes their profile on Facebook, a replica of the page could still be out there. Students would have to contact the search engine directly to make sure the information was permanently deleted.”

Universities could also feel the effects of Facebook and MySpace.

Prospective students have the ability to sift through college students’ profiles on MySpace to get a feel for the campus life at a particular university, which has the potential to negatively alter their perception of a particular institution.

Don Mills, vice chancellor for student affairs, said, “There may be one or two people that are on one side of the extreme, but all in all, it gives students a good idea of the kind of students we have here at TCU.”

Brown said he is not worried about TCU students’ profiles on social networking Web sites.

“When you take a look at postings on colleges as a whole, there’s essentially no school that escapes the poison pen of some disgruntled prospective student,” Brown said. “In point of fact, we’re far more fortunate than most.”

As a whole, Mills said, Facebook and MySpace are useful tools for prospective students.

“The more information they have to make up their mind, the more satisfied they will be with their decision,” Mills said. ” These Web sites are helping prospective students get a broader look at the campus and the students.”

In addition to prospective students, current college students seeking employment might consider censoring what information appears on their personal Web sites, said Kim Hickman, associate director of career services.

“We are always warning students about personal Web sites because employers are becoming more aware that students are using them,” Hickman said. “It may not be prevalent now, but it will be more so in the future.”

Some universities, including the University of New Mexico, have recently blocked access to Facebook and MySpace from all campus computers in an effort to minimize the use of social networking Web sites.

Mills said he hopes to build awareness of the dangers of Facebook and MySpace but said the university does not have plans to restrict access to these Web sites on campus computers.

“We want to share the appropriate use of Facebook and MySpace,” Mills said. “Perhaps we will establish a seminar in orientation or Frog Camp.