Colleges consider ACTs, grades and Facebook

Natan Shayevich, Features Editor

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Beer pong is the last thing Kirk Brennan, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Southern California, expected to see on a recovering alcoholic’s Facebook page, but when an anonymous tip lead him to google a very promising applicant’s name, that is exactly what he found.
“A student wrote in her application about how she had fought alcohol addiction and conquered it, and [her] application was a very strong story about recovery, about redemption,” said Brennan. “Her grades had improved, [and] her [application] was [great]. … [But] the dean noticed that on her Facebook page, [there] were all sorts of pictures with red Solo cups and party atmospheres, and the story that we saw in the application suddenly seemed like a total fraud.”
Brennan said although it is not part of the application review to do extensive research on a candidate, it is not unheard of for a third party, someone who knows the applicant, to point out questionable aspects of the applicant’s life — arrests, expulsions or their behavior on social media — that otherwise would not have been available to the application reader.
“We’re forming a community, [and] if things come to our attention that would alter the impression that we have about what impact the student would make, then we’re going to take that into consideration,” Brennan said.

USC is not alone in this practice. Chris Peterson, assistant director of admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Christoph Guttentag, dean of Duke undergraduate admissions, and Rick Fitzgerald, director of public affairs at the University of Michigan, all said their colleges also check applicants’ social media pages for supplemental information on activities or organizations the student was part of. However, if any information regarding a candidate that negatively impacts his or her application comes up, Guttentag said Duke will consider that too.

“It’s quite rare that something we see would raise a question about an applicant’s character, integrity or judgment, but if the information is publicly available, we would feel comfortable including that in our assessment of an applicant,” Guttentag said.
Junior Ellen Gilbert said she thinks that colleges are not crossing any lines by doing this kind of research.
Gilbert said people may lead two separate lives: one on social media and one in person. One may be drastically different from the other, and what admissions officers find on an applicant’s social media may lead them “to question who you are as a person and what you really believe.”
Junior Ethan Schonfeld said he is not on any social media.
“[There is] a certain aspect of social media that allows people to kind of put words into your mouth and associate you with other images that colleges could see, such as tagging you in a photo, and I would prefer to just stay away from all that,” Schonfeld said.
Brennan said that students should understand that they are becoming part of a larger world.
“As [students] grow up, they’ll have to leave the nest and go out into the real world, and that means being involved in many different communities,” said Brennan. “One’s behavior [is] a matter of importance to those communities. … We as human beings [assess] fitness for [these communities] in many different ways: a student’s public persona, the way they behave in public, and I would extend social media to that. It’s fair game.”

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Colleges consider ACTs, grades and Facebook