Colleges should interview students instead of stalking them online

November 16, 2017 — by Alex Wang and Vivien Zhang

This fall, tens of thousands of high school seniors are working meticulously on their college applications, writing personal essays and struggling to find the best words to describe who they are to admissions officers. In the meantime, they often forget about the one factor that may affect their admission more than anything: their social media profiles.

According to The New York Times, a survey taken in 2013 showed that 31 percent of 381 officers admitted to either Googling or looking at the applicant's social media pages, particularly Facebook.

Over the summer, 10 seniors who had been admitted into Harvard were rescinded for sending obscene, racially charged memes and messages found in a private group chat. Many of the students argued that Harvard’s decision to revoke their admission was unfair and that they should not be subjected to such scrutiny.

While memes and messages like these are not appropriate in any context, these posts were made in a private group chat, raising questions about how far admission officers will go into what students think is a private sphere. These messages were meant for the eyes of friends, not those of the general public. If colleges can rescind students based on comments made privately, young people may get the message that it’s unsafe to voice anything remotely controversial on social media.

In addition, students often act differently on social media than in real life. They tag their friends in memes and other posts because such memes are relatable or because they refer to some inside joke. Because no additional context is provided to the colleges, many of these posts can be misunderstood and the comments are seen as more negative than they really are.

In addition, some students have had social media accounts beginning in middle school or earlier. They may have posted misleading statuses and immature comments that they may regret now as  more understanding, older individuals.

It is extremely difficult to go back and meticulously delete every post or comment made since beginning on social media, considering that by the time they realize it will truly affect applications, there may already be hundreds of comments that are no longer accessible or hard to find. To evaluate a student based on posts due to spontaneity or a moment of bad judgment in eighth grade is unreasonable at best.

In an attempt to hide their digital footprints, many students will change their names and profiles on social media. Other students try to use this as a kind of life makeover, emphasizing their positive accomplishments, such as their leadership roles or community service. This means social media simply becomes another tool to impress colleges. Admittedly, checking social media has offered colleges some minimal benefits. According to a Kaplan Test Prep survey, 47 percent of officers said that social media profiles have generally had a positive effect on how they view prospective students.

In addition, because some students elaborate on their accomplishments on their applications, some aspects of students’ social media accounts help the admissions officers gain a better understanding of their value to the community.

Nevertheless, a better way to understand a student more thoroughly is by interviewing them. Many top tier colleges offer this option, but they are often quickly filled within a few days while other colleges do not offer them at all. Interviews raise no concerns about privacy, and students can prepare for them, allowing them to make a better first impression and decreasing the chance that some comment they made in middle school will ruin their chances of admission.

Interacting with a student face-to-face also provides a better assessment of the student’s personality rather than relying on a few pictures and posts. Although interviews may be less efficient than quick social media searches, the knowledge they provide far outweighs the time they take up.

Social media checkups by college admissions officers have raised concerns about privacy issues and can easily be seen as unnecessary, added distress for applicants. The one-third of officers who do check social media should follow the footsteps of the two-thirds who do not.


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