Applying to college is stressful. No matter how hard I try to forget those long hours of slaving over admissions essays, pouring over my SAT study book and visiting countless college campuses, that unease and anxiety I felt three years ago is all too easy to recall. Between throwing ourselves into extracurricular activities and struggling to raise our GPAs as high school seniors, there wasn’t time for much else as we focused on where we would spend the next four years of our lives.
But now, college applicants have something else to worry about on top of everything else: their social media accounts.
It’s not as if social media wasn’t already popular three years ago, but in just three years, the trend has escalated to another level. Teens now have a plethora of accounts on various sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+, just to name a few. Those accounts are useful for social interaction and networking, but for a college applicant, the sites have become breeding grounds for inappropriate material that could ultimately cost them their coveted college acceptance letters.
According to a report by The New York Times, 31 percent of 381 college admissions officers who participated in a Kaplan telephone questionnaire admitted to looking at an applicant’s Facebook or other personal social media page in an effort to learn more about them, up from just 10 percent in 2008. Another 29 percent of those surveyed said that they have Googled an applicant. College admissions officers are spending an increasing amount of time online as they begin to use students’ social media accounts to determine whether or not their submitted applications match their actual persona.
Colleges have denied certain students admission based on their officers’ findings, despite the applicants’ impressive GPAs, test scores and other accomplishments. In addition, those students are not notified that their social media profiles are the cause of their rejection.
This invasion of privacy isn’t encouraged, but it also isn’t prohibited. Using social media as an acceptance indicator is relatively new, so there are no rules or limitations on the practice at most universities. There are currently no set regulations in line to define what online stalking is appropriate and what crosses the line.
But should students be denied acceptance to their dream college and have their futures changed forever because of a picture they posted at the age of 16 or 17 years old? Absolutely not. And if any online inquisition were to take place, there must be regulations limiting it.
For one thing, online accounts have a lot of misleading content. Pictures could come off as funny to one person but offensive to another. Also, funny tweets and Facebook statuses are meant for the eyes of friends, not admissions officers. An admissions officer shouldn’t judge the student based on what can be found about them online — these kids have worked much too hard to be thwarted by a stupid online mistake. And a person is so much more than a status or a tweet.
Furthermore, the fact that admissions officers even have the ability to snoop on prospective students online is incredibly inappropriate. I surmise that most college admissions officers today did not have to worry about censoring their own digital footprints when they themselves were applying to colleges — they should not be able to judge students this way, considering that they were never subjected to this kind of scrutiny.
Despite the unfairness of online snooping, it is becoming an inevitable occurrence. There must be some type of national regulation and criteria for officers to abide by when using the Internet to lurk the profiles of students. Getting into college is hard enough without the added stress of maintaining a perfect social media presence. College applicants have so many other application details to worry about that they deserve to be cut a break.
Cecilia Callas is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column “Tech Talk” runs Wednesdays.
Follow Cecilia on Twitter @ceciliacallas