Admission Counselors on Facebook?

Nothin’ like twisting around some statistics to start off your Monday.

Higher ed and Admission folks may have missed this article over the weekend from All Facebook but twitter was well… a-twitter with this Huffington Post story this morning that ominously warns prospective students to clean up their Facebook profile or else be rejected from every school you have applied to.

Comparing apples to oranges

To state (in the original article) that “Four out of every five college admissions offices use Facebook to recruit students” is not equivalent to “Four out of five college admission offices use Facebook in the application decision making process” which is the conclusion that the Huffington Post jumps to.

This blatant misrepresentation of Kaplan’s statistics (which I can’t seem to find) is frustrating.

Admission Officers are busy

I spent two years in Admissions and during reading season you are… big surprise… READING!  God help me if I had time to do anything else.  I google’d an applicant once because the essay seemed too good to be true given the student’s test scores and transcript, but even in that case I was googling the essay and not the student herself.

(The essay was too good to be true, but that is besides the point.)

Mark Rothbaum of Varsity Outreach (a company that designs customized college Facebook apps for “community building and targeted communication” between admission’s and prospective students) told me, “I haven’t talked to a single admission counselor who has searched for a student on Facebook.”

St. Mike’s is considered one of the 80% of schools that use Facebook to connect with students, but that’s all we do, we connect with them and we do it appropriately – through Pages and Groups.  Admission counselors aren’t friending students or witch hunting them.  I continue to connect with hundreds of prospective students via the Class of 2015 Group, but I will never click on a student’s name to see their profile.  I don’t have the time and frankly, I don’t care.

Are you John Smith? Or John Smith?

Have you ever accidentally friended the wrong person?  Maybe not, because there is a good chance you can recognize them from their photo.

I just did a search for John Smith of Boston, MA.  Do you want to guess how many results were returned? 8 bagillion.

Most admission offices do not require head shots to accompany the application.  If I don’t know what John looks like there is no chance of me finding the correct one, and remember I don’t have time to be doing this search anyway…

Is this even legal?

In my conversation with Mark, he raised the question of the legality of all of this.  That’s an answer neither of us had and one I doubt a school wants to be put in a position to find out.

What’s your take on these articles?  Are you an admission counselor that consider the Facebook profile of their applicants?

UPDATE 1:  Here is the Kaplan Survey that both articles referenced.  Big thanks to Katye Robare Munger for locating it.

The results actual say that the majority of schools do not have official policies regarding using social media in the decision making process and of the schools that do have a policy, nearly half are not even allowed to visit the social networking site.  This question is asked completely separately from the question “Do you use Facebook to recruit prospective students?”

UPDATE 2: What does an Admission Counselor actually look for in an applicant?  Carrie Pratt, Admission Counselor at Saint Michael’s, writes this blog post.


About Mallory Wood

Mallory Wood is a Vermont-based higher ed marketing professional with a passion for social media, web video, and event production. View all posts by Mallory Wood

28 responses to “Admission Counselors on Facebook?

  • Nicole

    I’m with you on this one. Even if I were to friend a student on Facebook, I still wouldn’t go searching their profile looking to make sure there’s anything I should be concerned about. We just straight-up do NOT have enough time for that!

    That being said, students need to be careful what they WRITE on a college-run fan page or group! There’s definitely been a few times I’ve come across a post or two discussing the parties they’ll have on campus…on a college-run wall! THAT is something students need to wise up about.

    • Mallory Wood

      Such an important point Nicole. Is writing “I just want to get high.” on the institution’s Page is any different than writing it in an email to that institution? I don’t think so.

      A short story:

      At SMC we create Facebook Groups for incoming classes. A couple years ago a student created their own SMC Class of 20XX group under the premise that “this is where we’ll talk about the important stuff (parties) without those pesky Admission officers checking up on us.” It was mostly funny because the group showed up under the section “related groups” and clearly the admission office was aware of its presence. We made the decision to stay away from it.

  • @kevingrout

    How about twitter? I definitely see it as a listening tool, but curious if schools would consider using it.

    For example, saw a tweet from a prospective student who said “I better get accepted into university. At least XXXX’ they accept anyone I swear lol. Dumbest ppl I know go there.. ”

    What about something like that, where the student willingly put something out there?

  • Lane J

    Is this even legal? I mean if an admissions officer denies a student’s application because of what they find on their Facebook profile. That’s like pre-screening job applicants for a position using Social Media, which if the information obtained is outside the scoop of the job application it’s not quite legal without the person consent (

    • Mallory Wood

      It would be great to hear from a school that does use Facebook when evaluating students, I bet there is at least one out there, and the weight that the site is given. Would an applicant ever be told that was a factor?

  • Mark Rothbaum

    Great post. As if reading essays, reviewing transcripts, and conducting interviews wasn’t enough;) It would seem like a lot more work to start searching for students on Facebook as well. As you mentioned, I’ve talked with hundreds of schools, not a single one has mentioned using Facebook as part of the applicant review process (i.e. actively searching for a student on Facebook to help them make a decision).

    99% of them do admit to using Facebook as an outreach and recruitment tool. Moreover, a number have said they “friend” students on Facebook (usually student-initiated, but not always). I think that can lead to some areas of gray (for both the student and the counselor), which should be considered by admission offices. If I’m a high school student and a counselor sends me a Friend Request, what happens if I say “no”? Does that count against me? From a counselor perspective, what do you do if a student adds you as a friend and a picture the student posted from last Saturday night’s party (with a beer in hand) shows up in your News Feed? These are topics that definitely merit further discussion, both inside admission offices and between parents / school counselors and high school students.

    Facebook, and social media, in general, is such a new area that I think colleges and universities are all still feeling out the appropriate boundaries. Sensationalizing the conversation can shift the focus away from real conversations that should be taking place around where these lines should be drawn.

    • Mallory Wood

      You just nailed square on the head a topic of a future blog post. I am very opposed to admission officers friending applicants via Facebook. I was quoted by USA Today on this very topic in September 2009 –

      Some institutions have their admission staff create separate Facebook profiles, “Jane Doe – Admissions” which I am against even more.

      You are being too kind when you say “I think that can lead to some areas of gray…” I would never want to put myself or a prospective student in such a situation. It is not my job as their admission counselor to police their weekend activities nor is it my responsibility to reprimand them for poor choices.

      [Unsolicited] I think this is why applications like Varsity Outreach make a lot of sense. You give admissions the possibility to connect with prospective students in a place that they opt into and essentially eliminate the unease over the issue of “friending” them.

  • Katye, @mungerette

    Who in the world has time to look at students facebook profiles? Who wants to? I wouldn’t want a potential employer to look at my profile, because what I do with my “not at work time” is my business. Same goes for students! They have submitted their application materials, and that is all that is evaluated. Thank you, Mallory, for addressing this. I have never met an admissions counselor who has the time or the desire to look at a students profile. We want to use Facebook and other social media outlets to recruit students, but they come to our SCHOOL profile and do not need to “friend” us in order to do this.

    I could talk about this all day, but you did a great job of covering the bases here. I am going to also try to locate those Kaplan stats. I will update if I can find them!

    • Mallory Wood

      “I have never met an admissions counselor who has the time or the desire to look at a students profile.”

      Nor have I: from big to tiny, from ivy to 100% acceptance rate, from public to private, from 4 year to 2 year…

  • Mark Greenfield

    I would love to know more about the legal issues around this topic. While in no way am I advocating using Facebook in the admissions decision process, I doubt it is violating the law.

  • Katye, @mungerette

    Ok! I found some information:
    Kaplan’s 2009 survey which actually states that 84% of schools do not have a policy AGAINST looking at students profiles. Of the 16% of schools that DID have a policy about looking at profiles, 63% were not allowed to look AT ALL.

    The 2010 survey again, it says do you use Facebook to RECRUIT (82% yes), do you have a policy ABOUT looking at profiles (86% no). There is no question asking if they DO look at students profiles.

  • Nick DeNardis

    I don’t and have never worked in an admissions office but work with ours closely. I feel like denying a student based on their FB content is silly. Institutions look for the best fit and so what if the student “isn’t the perfect role model”.

    It reminds me of the idea of employers running credit checks on prospective employees before being hired. A rumor I have heard multiple times but have yet to run into a company that actually does it.

    Your financial or personal situation have nothing to do with how good of a student/employee you will be and I think admission offices know this.

    I am calling BS on this urban legend.

  • Facebook and Enrollment – What do future students want? « Marketing with Mallory

    […] my previous post “Admission Counselors on Facebook?” I attempted to clear up some miscontrued Kaplan survey results that All Facebook reported […]

  • robinteractive

    I do work in admissions. I’m not at a school where we check Facebook profiles when making an admissions decision. We don’t even do that when awarding our full ride scholarships.

    That said, I can understand why some schools might want deeper information due to school values (i.e. a highly conservative school), possible embarrassment (such as the full ride scholarship scenario), etc.

    Legal to do that? I honestly don’t know. I’m a person that values privacy, and personally would consider it an invasion of my privacy if someone did that to me. But, as a private person, they honestly wouldn’t find much about me online that would raise eyebrows – I’m aware of how easy it is to find such information…

    That said, I’m not sure it is illegal, which is a different question. If I were applying for a job, I would pretty much assume that the HR office would snoop around the Web a bit to look at publicly-accessible information about me if I were a top candidate.

    By the way, while you might not find the John Smith you are looking for on Facebook by a simple name search, chances are you would have enough information from an admissions application to find the John Smith you are looking for. Name plus hometown, or name plus high school, will often come up with a match.

    Beyond that, and more direct, e-mail address is a unique identifier. You can search for e-mail addresses in Facebook and quite often match it up with a profile. An e-mail address will reveal a LOT. Around a year ago I wrote a post titled E-mail + Social Media Convergence: Intentional and Unintentional Marketing which talks about a few ways this can be done, even in an automated fashion.

    I’ve seen New York Times articles about how prospective students will change their Facebook name in case colleges decide to name search them. What these articles never seem to mention is the connection between an e-mail address and Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking accounts…

  • Brian Fanning

    I’m in a similar situation to Nick. I’m not currently nor have I ever worked in Admissions (though I’m very tightly connected with those offices) so I can’t really accurately comment on use of Facebook in Admissions decisions.

    I do, however, think we’re very near to a point where Facebook and other SM profiles become very closely integrated to existing business processes rather than needing to be searched for. Outlook 2010’s Social Connector add-on will automatically present both a Facebook and LinkedIn profile for any email address in an email. Rockmelt’s started web browsers toward similar integration. That’s a pretty significant change in pushing the profile directly to you rather than requiring the time and research to find it – in my opinion, something that changes the game drastically. People are curious by nature and significantly more curious when something’s only one click away.

    Not saying that it’s right, legal, or even ethical – just that soon it’ll be right there for viewing and, as a result, opinion-forming.

  • robinteractive

    Brian, that’s precisely what the post I linked to (E-mail + Social Media Convergence…) talks about. You don’t need to seek out the info, it can be pushed to you quite easily (it is typically based on e-mail address as the unique identifier), and increasingly that is being automated. If you’re impressed with the Social Connector add-on for Outlook, check out Xobni. Bill Gates himself is a Xobni fan.

    That blog post also talks about the flip side: if you e-mail prospective students, coworkers, etc., they can potentially very easily see your social media profiles and form opinions. It is a two-way street.

    And if you want to seek out info in more depth (all the way down to newspaper commenting profiles and even dating profiles), there are tools to do that, too. Flowtown does this with e-mail addresses. Gist does this in different ways with e-mail addresses and even names. Those tools exist because marketers are using them. Whether that is ethical, it seems to be legal. That would be a lot of info to digest for an admissions office, but for a fundraising/development office wanting to follow a specific list of donors and prospective donors, it could provide valuable info.

    Mallory, you’ve focused on the prospective students. And you haven’t mentioned the elephant in the room: LinkedIn. It can put employment history at the fingertips of anyone. A fundraiser may find this info useful. An admissions office may find this info useful, too, when making an admissions decision or dealing with a financial aid appeal. The admissions office I work in doesn’t do this. But the info is easily accessible.

    Something I didn’t comment on before, but will now. I work in Admissions, and I can and do approve any inbound friend request from any prospective student. Why? Ease of communication. Some prospective students will send me questions via Facebook Messages, be it live chat or “offline” messages. My job is to answer their questions to help them determine “fit” with our college. I’m less concerned with how a student communicates with me than making that communication easy. Facebook is one of a number of ways I try to ease communication.

    That said, I don’t send friend requests out to prospective students, and I don’t peruse their profiles. To be honest, I keep my own Facebook profile very bland because of this accepting friend requests. I also pay very little attention to my Facebook news feed, and when I do occasionally glance at it I skim for familiar names of friends/family.

    Facebook pushes openness, so there’s a lot of info that can be gleaned if someone want’s to seek it out. For instance, what people are saying on Facebook about St. Michael’s College. I post this to pose the question: If a college listens to Twitter mentions, how is listening in on Facebook any different?

    • Mallory Wood

      Our admission office does not use LinkenIn for the purposes you described either. I’m not sure of the numbers, but I would guess that there aren’t a lot of 16-18 year old people using the service.

      While I will not friend prospective students on Facebook, I think you are doing it the right way. You didn’t create a separate “Robin – Admission Counselor” profile, you are being authentically you but being aware of the information you are sharing, and you are only accepting requests vs. requesting them. There is nothing wrong with keeping your profile bland and you aren’t “facebook stalking” the students.

      Goals always come before tools and your goal is to communicate, answer questions, and make it convenient for the student. It sounds like you have a great system and the students are interested in connecting with you in that way. Bravo!

    • Mark Rothbaum

      @robinteractive You make some great points. E-mail addresses are often the “hidden” (I put it in parentheses b/c it’s not really that hidden as you point out) link between various social networking accounts.

      However, I think there is an important distinction to be drawn between using information for marketing purposes and for admissions decisions. If you are going to change an admissions decision based on information you find on a social networking profile (Facebook or LinkedIn), that’s a much different action in my mind than using information to adjust your marketing techniques. What if a user’s account was hacked and the post in question wasn’t his or hers? What if the can of beer you see in a picture is just a prop in a costume? I could think of lots of examples like this. Sure, your hunch may be right 9 times out of 10, but is that good enough to pull an admissions offer? I would hope that the bar is much higher for an admissions officer considering rescinding an admissions offer (or an employer rescinding a job offer) vs. someone using information to fine-tune their marketing approach.

      I’m really enjoying the back and forth commentary on this post. Lots of great thoughts!

      • Mark Rothbaum

        Just to clarify, when Mallory and I were talking about legality. It was around potentially rescinding an offer based on a Facebook post, not around using Facebook information in admissions, in general. And, again, we definitely don’t know the answer to that question, but we both thought you might be opening up a can of worms (e.g., a potential lawsuit) if you rescind an offer based on a Facebook post alone.

        I think a lot of the discussion around the use of Facebook and other social networks comes down to ethics more than legality.

  • Brian Fanning


    Thanks for pointing out that link. I had played with Xobni a bit back – LOVED the analytics component, but was definitely a bit invasive.

    On email accounts and where they are used, I’ve always been a proponent of keeping work and personal separate. I think Facebook’s edu-only roots had a significant impact on that line of thought. When I’m included in a rather wide distribution email, I’m always surprised in how many Facebook accounts I see that are linked to what I know to be Edu “work” emails.

    If I had the need to interact via Facebook professionally, I’d almost certainly setup a totally separate “professional-focused” account for it.

    Really great dialog here.


  • robinteractive

    Just to be clear, the school I’m at doesn’t use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Web searches, etc., when it comes to admissions decisions, financial aid decisions, etc.

    And I’m *not* advocating it, but to clarify… the potential value of LinkedIn information relates to parents of prospective students, not the students themselves. LinkedIn profiles are more common with the parent-of-a-college-bound-student demographic.

    BTW, it is Rob, not Robin. But that’s the fun of being semi-anonymous on the Web 🙂

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