With the deadline for Yale’s early applicants only two days away, would-be Elis trying to increase their chances of admission need not delete their Facebook accounts just yet.
The growing prominence of websites like MySpace had unintended consequences for both employers and colleges, who are finding themselves caught between a desire to vet applicants and a call to respect their privacy. Yale, which is among the 10 percent of schools with a set policy about whether admissions officers can consult applicants’ social networking profiles, refrains from looking online, a survey by Kaplan Inc., a test preparation and admissions company, found last month. Yale does not use information on online profiles because it is often irrelevant and impossible to interpret from an admissions standpoint, Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said.
“Our policy is that we don’t take material from social networking sites into account when evaluating applications or making admissions decisions,” he said in an e-mail to the News.
The survey also found that 10 percent of college admissions officers have checked applicants’ profiles on social networking sites. More than a third of officers who said they looked at sites reported developing a negative opinion of the student as a result, according to the survey.
The admissions office does not examine online profiles because it would be impossible to check all students’ profiles, leading to an issue of fairness, Brenzel said. Additionally, many pieces of information revealed on such a site, such as a student’s religious sentiments, friendships or musical tastes, are irrelevant to the admissions process, he said.
Brenzel added that interpreting any provocative material on student profiles would be a difficult task.
“A student might be experimenting with a point of view; trying to shock his or her friends; presenting something in an ironic or disguised form, or simply exercising creativity and imagination,” he wrote. “What basis would we have for sorting out what had serious intent and what didn’t, what was conveying real information and what wasn’t?”
Of the 10 percent of schools that have regulations about online student profiles, some policies encourage officers to check students’ social networking profiles under certain circumstances, he said. In this way, officers can research potential red flags in students’ applications, settle a close call between applicants or even make decisions about scholarships, Jeff Olson, Kaplan’s executive director of research said.
“It’s not realistic to think that all these independent schools will ignore information that is available easily through a Google search,” Olson said.
A total of 320 college admissions officers participated in the survey, including officers from all Ivy League schools except Harvard University, Kaplan spokesman Russell Schaffer said.
Four college counselors interviewed by the News said students at their schools are advised to keep information on social networking sites private.
Jane Horn, director of college counseling at the Kent Denver School in Colorado, said the college counseling office is aware that college admissions offices check student profiles. With this and students’ safety in mind, the school makes presentations warning students about what they post.
“Students have the misimpression that their Facebook and MySpace pages are private,” she said. “It’s just common sense to be careful about what they post, not only for college admissions but ultimately for when they get to the job market.”
The dozen Yale students interviewed expressed divided opinions about whether admissions officers should be able to examine applicants’ social networking profiles.
Dan Choi ’12 said he reluctantly deleted his online profiles on two social networking sites soon before mailing his applications.
“We don’t apply to college through Facebook, so officers don’t have the right to [access students’ profiles],” he said. “People always have things on profiles they don’t want colleges to know about.”
Other Kaplan surveys discovered that 15 percent of law school and 14 percent of medical school admissions officers checked applicants’ online social networking profiles.