Colleges shouldn’t find students on Facebook

Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor
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According to a 2013 CareerBuilder survey, 39 percent of companies use social networks to screen potential candidates, up from 37 percent last year. Because companies are increasingly using social media websites to determine who to hire, it makes sense that colleges would join them when deciding which prospective students to accept and which to deny. According to a Kaplan telephone survey, 31 percent of college admissions officers have visited a prospective student’s profile to gain more information about them.

If hiring managers are already using social media to gain information about potential job candidates, why is it a big deal for colleges to do the same for prospective students?

The answer lies in the way teens use social media. Colleges cannot accurately judge students by their profiles because too many teens are unaware of the consequences of online posts. Before colleges begin to use this information, educators must make teens more aware of the bearing that the information that they post online can have in their lives. According to a Pew Research Center study, 19 percent of teens later regret information that they post online. Teens may be unaware of the effects that their posts can hold.

A survey by CASAColumbia found that the number of teens posting pictures about alcohol or drug use online is exceptionally high. For teens between the ages of 16-17, 68 percent of respondents say that they have seen pictures of other teens using drugs or alcohol on social media sites. It is becoming more socially acceptable for teens to post things that would otherwise be deemed inappropriate. The CASAColumbia survey found that 75 percent of teens believe that seeing their peers use drugs and alcohol on social media networks makes other teens want to act the same way. This belief may stem from the need for teenagers to feel popular or accepted.

However, while this inappropriate content can make teens more accepted by others their age, college counselors that come across this information can use it against them. According to the Kaplan telephone questionnaire, 30 percent of college admissions officers discovered content online that negatively affected an applicant’s outcome.

While the debate over whether or not colleges should look at social media continues to focus on the actions of college counselors, the real problem is the current online activity of teens. The current generation is not aware of the effects of sharing online content and does little in the way of protecting this information. The Pew Research Center revealed that 14 percent of teens have their Facebook profiles completely public, while another 25 percent have only partial privacy settings.

Teens may care more about hiding their information from their parents than admissions counselors. College counselors seem more distant than parents, who directly influence teens, and the idea of being denied by a college over a harmless social media post could seem absurd. A McAfee study found that 70 percent of teens hide online activity from parents, while 19.9 percent manipulate settings to block social media from their parents.

This information that teens are working to keep away from their parents is the same information that could result in a rejection letter from their dream college. Parents may be unaware of this content and its effects on their children.

Because most teenagers do not have experience with employers or decision making in many real-life situations, it only makes sense that teens are naturally more irresponsible than adults on social media. However, while people focus on the ways in which colleges look at prospective students online, the real issue is how teens use social media. Many put content online that could potentially ruin their lives, and most schools and parents do little to stop them. We must refocus on educating teens on the effects of social media so that college admissions counselors have nothing negative to find. While most high schools neglect social media and outright ban it within their walls, they must change their focus and responsibly incorporate it into their curriculum.