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MIT staff blogger Ben Jones

Your Profile On The Web: Can It Hurt You? by Ben Jones

Responses to questions on Facebook and other internet profiles and how they can affect college admissions.

A rising high school senior who is currently in a prestigious summer journalism program recently saw me quoted in this article and asked if she could interview me over email for an article she’s writing, on how Facebook and other internet profiles can affect college admissions.

After responding to her questions, I realized that my answers may be useful to others as potential MIT ’11s gear up to begin the admissions process. Below is a copy of our correspondence:

Do you believe what students put on the internet can hurt them with college admissions? (Not necessarily at MIT but in general?) Do you believe someone could be rejected from a school simply because of an internet profile? Do you think it is fair for that to happen?

I have heard of other schools using information found online to inform decisions, either in regard to admission or in regard to the discipline of current students. I don’t know enough to say outright that applicants are in danger of getting rejected because of an internet profile, but personally I’d go the better-safe-than-sorry route, because different schools employ different policies. The MIT admissions office does not engage in this practice because it’s essentially an invasion of privacy – sites like Facebook are designed to be a community, a playground, etc for students – not designed to be a spying tool for Big Brother. To use them as the latter is, in my opinion, not terribly ethical. Admissions officers should get involved in these communities if they want to help applicants with the process, with the match – not if they’re out to use what they find there to hurt them.

MIT does not look at Facebook profiles as part of the admissions process, but do you know of any schools who do check students’ Facebook profiles?

Off the top of my head, no. But I’ve read a lot of stuff over the last year and have seen many schools mentioned in this regard. For example, check out this article. There are many more like it all over the web.

Do you advise students to take down incriminating photos/information from Facebook profiles/censor them when applying to college since many schools are believed to be checking these profiles?

Unless the schools to which one is applying have specific policies on this topic that they’ve made public, I would advise folks to go the better-safe-than-sorry route and not make questionable things available for public viewing. This doesn’t mean that you have to remove everything; simply limit those parts of your profile to people you approve as your friends.

If someone pointed out something objectionable on an applicant’s Facebook profile to you, would you look into it?

I don’t really find much to be objectionable – it wasn’t *that* long ago that I was in college myself. :-) But if someone let me know that an applicant was in real danger of hurting him/herself or others, I couldn’t in good conscience ignore that.

You have made yourself available to students through Friendster, Facebook, LiveJournal, Xanga and MySpace, do you believe this kind of access to admissions officers is the way of the future? What has been the reaction of your colleagues and of students to your actions?

It’s becoming increasingly common, but I’m not sure if it will ever be “the way of the future” for all colleges. We at MIT love having a completely transparent admissions process – it mirrors the openness of MIT’s culture and we feel that it helps to reduce stress and anxiety in the applicant pool when students get to know us a bit and understand that their applications are in good hands. But not all schools share this view – many feel that applicants should not be privy to what goes on in an admissions office. From applicants, parents, and guidance counselors, we have received almost nothing but favorable reactions to what we’re doing. From colleagues at other schools, it’s a mixture. Some say “that’s awesome, we need to do this too” and others say “what the heck are you doing?!?” In large part it really depends on the culture of the school, I suppose.

How have you enacted your policy of only using the internet to help students?

In terms of helping applicants, admissions is really all about the match between applicant and school. The more a school can do to help applicants learn the true culture of a place – what drives it and what fuels the imagination and creativity of its student body – the more likely the applicant will be to make an informed decision as to whether or not he/she will truly be happy there over the next four years. That’s what I mean when I talk about helping applicants – admissions officers should be using the internet to help applicants evaluate their schools and that match; not the other way around, where schools use the internet to evaluate applicants in some way.

Those of you who will be applying to college in the next year or two, do you have any additional questions on this topic? If I know the definitive answer or simply have an opinion, I’ll be happy to respond.

12 responses to “Your Profile On The Web: Can It Hurt You?”

  1. Christina says:

    The trick is to never use your last name. Ever. Google is a jerk like that. grin

  2. thekeri says:

    I agree with Christina. Google me, and you get the theater reviews I’ve published and some newspaper articles about other random stuff. But my LJ? Nowhere to be found.

  3. Jon says:

    not really a question…but i do believe that you have officially deemed us “potential MIT ’11s”

    I dont know about the rest of you…but I’m kinda freaking out now.

  4. faye says:

    Only a little bit freaked out.

  5. Andrew says:

    I agree with Keri and Christina. Type in mine and you get PTA publications, saying I got 2nd at regionals in SO. raspberry But no LJ or Myspace or Xanga. ^^;

    At one point you would get a GameFAQs guide I wrote, though. :D

  6. Christina says:

    Hahaha. Yes, that is the best trick. Try googling COLIN JACKSON. No, really. Do it.

  7. JKim says:

    The trick is having a completely anonymous name. You got nothin’ on Jessica Kim: I’m apparently both a doctor and a business major? Even I didn’t know I was so talented. wink

  8. Colin says:

    Hahaha. I love my Olympian alter-ego.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    I Googled myself and found out that I saved a bunch of people from a fire in Brooklyn. Cool.

  10. Stephanie says:

    I actually was told by my current employers that they “googled” me…it was more of a curious lookup than a find-the-dirt search. But now they know a nickname I got freshman year at MIT, which doesn’t bother me at all. Although I wanted to make it clear to them that I am not the Stephanie Silberstein who writes about anarcho-socialism or who writes poetry. Though one person once emailed me yelling at me about the anarcho-socialism paper.

    anyway, i guess if you have nothing to hide, then you don’t really have anything to worry about, right?

  11. Claire says:

    I was Miss United Kingdom ’92 or ’93, I believe. I kind of love it.

  12. ADITYA GUPTA says: