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Some colleges checking out applicants' social networking posts

A new report indicates that some schools' admission or scholarship decisions are being influenced by what they find about an applicant on the Internet. The issue raises ethical concerns.

April 29, 2009|Larry Gordon

High school students, beware! College admissions and financial aid officers in California and elsewhere may be peeking over your digital shoulder at the personal information you post on your Facebook or MySpace page.

And they might decide to toss out your application after reading what you wrote about that cool party last week or how you want to conduct your romantic life at college.

According to a new report by the National Assn. for College Admission Counseling, about a quarter of U.S. colleges reported doing some research about applicants on social networking sites or through Internet search engines. The study, which included 10 California colleges, did not specify which schools acknowledged the practice or how often scholarships or enrollment offers might be nixed because of online postings.

David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for the counselors group, said the moral is clear: "Don't post anything that you don't want your mother or father or college admission officer to see," he said.

Colleges' use of such Internet sites raises ethical issues that need further study, including regarding whether online postings are genuine, Hawkins added.

The report, which also looked at colleges' use of the Internet to recruit students, was written by Nora Ganim Barnes, director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She said some colleges turn to the social websites because "no school wants to give a prestigious scholarship to someone standing on a beer keg and wearing a lampshade."

Calls Tuesday to several California campuses turned up none that acknowledged any online snooping.

"Do you think we have time for that?" asked Susan Wilbur, the UC system's director of undergraduate admissions, which received more than 100,000 applications this year. "We have not even discussed that."

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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