Facebook and Applying to College

By Joshua Henry

Facebook is a part of all of our lives. Even if you don’t use the website, it’s an unavoidable social topic. And like it or not, Facebook is a part of the college admission process too.

Colleges and universities are utilizing social media outlets such as Facebook with great regularity to connect with prospective students. It’s easy to think that your Facebook profile is your personal property, but in truth, Facebook is a public forum. Despite the privacy settings the site offers, the content on a Facebook profile is anything but private. If you choose to interact with a school on Facebook, you’re inviting that school to access to all of the information in your profile.

There exists a natural curiosity for a college or university to want to know with whom it is communicating through social media. That knowledge is as useful for the schools as their presence on the site is for you. Ideally, admission officers wouldn’t use that knowledge to pry into the personal and social lives of their applicants. But unfortunately, it does happen. Consequently, it’s wise to keep images and information that you would rather not share with the world off of Facebook. Scandalous pictures and obscene language function as turnoffs to those hoping to admit the best and brightest young adults from their competitive applicant pools.

Likewise, it’s both smart and polite to keep the intimate details of your college search off of Facebook. Broadcasting the list of schools to which you are applying and the admission decisions you receive invites criticism from peers who may be jealous or judgmental and not have your best interests in mind. Status updates disclosing admission decisions from schools you have heard from may influence pending decisions from schools you have not. Also, boasting of your college list or the acceptance letters you receive can cause others grief if they feel that their lists and outcomes don’t measure up. This process is about personal discovery and self-exploration, and it’s best to cherish the experience and share it with those who are close to you.

(I do recall an experience from working at William & Mary where we searched for an applicant we were discussing on Facebook. The applicant did something unique or unusual – sadly I no longer recall what – and we hoped to learn more about it. Upon view of her profile, what we learned was that she was very excited to be attending Duke University in the fall, as she should be. We accepted the student anyway, because that was the appropriate decision to make on her application. But had we allowed ourselves to use that information inappropriately, she may not have received the same admission decision from us or other schools that saw the same status update. If anything unforeseen occurred and she was longer able to attend Duke, her options may have been unfortunately limited due to her excitement spilling onto Facebook.)

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t take advantage of Facebook as a resource during the college admission process. College and university admission offices have Facebook pages to promote their schools and connect with prospective students. Use these pages to ask questions, connect directly with admission officers and current students, and learn about the personality of the school. If you “Like” an admission office’s page, you’re likely to receive updated information and news stories throughout the process that can help you obtain a better sense of the institution’s identity and campus culture.

Facebook is fun, it’s useful, and it can occupy a ton of time when you’re bored. It can be a terrific resource during the college admission process, but it can also be a source of unwanted stress and an obstacle to achieving your ultimate goals. Use Facebook wisely and to present yourself how you want to be perceived, and you’ll have one less thing to worry about when applying to college.

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