(FACEBOOK.COM)
Facebook is just one of many social media sites that college admissions officers might peruse when reviewing applicants. (FACEBOOK.COM)

“Why Stony Brook University?”  I’m sure most students remember facing this imperative question at one time or another.  After reading this conspicuously written query on the main page of the SBU Undergraduate Admissions website (in dauntless, ominous red), it is difficult to not feel disgust for the college application process.  Much like a visceral reaction, the memories of filling out every scrap of information through CommonApp.com induces a sudden wave of nausea.

There are, of course, a myriad of appropriate, individual claims and justifications in answering such an inquiry.  But thankfully, our ever-eager advising faculty took it upon themselves to respond for us, having stated, “Students choose Stony Brook University because of its ‘red hot value.’”

If only I had put this on my application; this could also be reason enough to stay away, as it sounds mildly inflammatory.

High school senior solicitude is ripe and fully in season as university early enrollment is being drawn to a close. The phrase “college admissions” provokes a sense of worriment, not only in parents, but for anyone who went through the hell of undergraduate application procedure.  The supplementary horror stories of enrollment follies seem to only augment this anxiety.  All of them are words of warning or cautionary tales that are just a little too piercingly close to reality. The suspended requests, the rejection letters and technological mishaps are all stories that are grounded in failure.  They all practically resemble a Brother’s Grimm tale.

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Presented in these parables of woe, we are quick to identify the college admissions officer as the story’s malefactor, but is this entirely accurate?  Surely, the university is not to be blamed for simply doing its job.  Under the remit of the College Admissions Officer, the more common responsibilities include visiting high schools, talking to students and parents, reviewing applications, interviewing applicants and ultimately extending enrollment offers.  However, a new technique for ferreting out competition has been adopted into this cumbersome job description.  An article in the New York Times was recently published concerning a new feature of college admissions: “They Loved Your G.P.A. Then They Saw Your Tweets.”

It is prevailing hearsay that college admissions now use social media to scour student competition for admission.  From a certain standpoint, this phenomenon comes across as pitiable rather than merciless; I am sure their job is no easy feat, at least in an emotional sense.  Having to decide from a plethora of uniform applications, personal statements and letters of recommendation, their remorse must build as they distinguish between those who are essentially the victors from the hapless.  I would not doubt this social media admissions tactic actually serves as an expedient to salve the tortured, guilt-ridden conscience of the admissions officer.  This job clearly is not for the weak-hearted, as it seems to only best suit those belonging to an oppressive, imperial nature.

And yet, the New York Times article revealed not all universities take to social networks in making such a final decision, yet there have been an unfortunate handful of circumstances where a student’s online behavior resulted in the occasional rejection letter.  The article had coaxed a series of other writing on the issue. One in particular, from the Huffington Post, caught my attention: Megan Shuffleton’s “How To Clean Up Your Social Media For College Applications.” Cindy Boyles Crawford, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at the University of Georgia, was quoted in the column, stating, “Many scholarships, organizations and companies see social media as the ‘true view’ of a student’s character. One could easily be outstanding in an interview, then tarnish the image by an irresponsible post on their profile.”

Unsurprisingly, I would have to disagree.  One’s activity online should not reflect a legitimate portrayal of who they are as a person, and it would be peculiar to think otherwise.  An online persona represents only one side of you (and an astonishingly superficial one, at that).  People foster many different attitudes and behaviors for all occasions.  It is very possible to be boisterous through instant messaging while also adopting a rather shy disposition in a social media network, such as twitter.  As another example, there are many who tend to be more brazen with their peers, but if ever in the presence of strangers, they may come off as reserved.  If colleges are searching for an easy way to eliminate competition, they might as well have university admissions stationed in local movie theaters, because I guarantee you, conduct of the average high school student retrogresses tenfold in a cinema (signs of texting during the film would result in immediate wait-listing).  Fundamentally, social network analysis seems to me an unreliable method in gaining an accurate comprehension of a student.

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In spite of all this, college admissions officers may have other valid reasons for such regulation.  In the case that a student holds a less than appropriate reputation online, it is wise, and even natural, to question if this infamy should thrive at their particular institution, as the student would be representing that university.

The best thing you could say about this level of investigation is that it sets a standard of propriety for online interaction.  I actually find it refreshing not to see defamatory statements strewn across a Facebook comment section, or scrolling through tweets and re-tweets replete with invective.  As social life progressively incorporates social networking forums, there should be an acknowledged etiquette with virtual communication.  This is simply an issue of being conscientious.  Similar to adhering to manners online, like opening a doorway, or putting your elbows on the table, some people should be mindful not to post the status of their genitals online.

And still, it is highly doubtful that an internet profile is capable of representing one’s true identity.  Someone’s true character is no less comprehensible through an online medium than it is by weighing someone’s grade point average.  College admissions are not looking for a student’s “true character,” they’re sifting through what reads well on paper.  Only now this will also include what a student tweeted three weeks ago. 

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