Here’s a PSA for those high-achievers still in high school: watch what you’re posting online. You may already have known that, but a story in today’s Wall Street Journal details how college admissions officers at selective schools are using social media to make the final cut. According to a survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep, a quarter of admissions officers at top 500 schools have used social media to vet students. Of those admissions officers, a third of them say they found something that led them to deny a student admission. 

Sure, colleges don’t like to see photos of a high school senior passed out near the pong table. But they’re also looking for jerks: the dean of admissions at Wake Forest looks for bullying behavior online, and Paul Marthers, the vice president for enrollment at RPI, says they’ve turned up honor code violations and accusations of sexual assault. It’s not that schools are Facebooking every applicant; red flags in an application or recommendation precipitate most online fact-finding missions. According to Marthers, admissions social media searches “are a very small number. Among the 150000 applications [RPI] gets, it would be well under 100 times.”

To be honest, a Facebook only shows one side of a person’s life, and many students feel that its unfair to judge somebody on online detritus that is very much not part of the application. It’s hard to wipe something unflattering off Google, but it’s relatively easy to tweak Facebook’s privacy settings to prevent access to non-friends. High schoolers who want to go to Harvard (or any other excellent school) should lock it down.

Photo courtesy of Jimmy Harris.

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