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Editorial: When college admission gets too personal

Over the past several weeks, a number of reports and articles have investigated the extent to which college admission officers consider social media activity when evaluating applicants. The results generally indicate that, while not all colleges or admission officers check out their applicants’ Tweets or Facebook statuses, the practice is far from uncommon. That college admission officers would seek to delve so deeply into applicants’ personal lives is problematic, given the potential for mistaken identity or sabotage. We should teach discretion and accountability to teenagers in regard to their social media identities. But having admission officers monitor social media activity represents a significant overstep and, we believe, may set a dangerous precedent regarding universities’ control over their students’ social lives.

In particular, an admission office’s review of social media activity could give universities power to evaluate criteria that are fundamentally irrelevant to the application process. Whether social media reviews unearth photos of students engaging in underage drinking, impassioned expressions of political beliefs or disgruntled tweets about teachers or classmates, we believe this material may not truly indicate an applicant’s likelihood or ability to succeed in college. Furthermore, by giving admission officers access to such personal information, universities and colleges create an opportunity for evaluators to impose personal biases or preferences, a practice that strikes us as unfair.

Furthermore, this practice creates the potential for a multitude of logistical problems. An admission officer could easily mistake a profile found online for that of an applicant of the same name. Or an admission officer could take a picture or opinion out of context, letting the applicant consequently suffer. And finally, a generational gap between officers and applicants could mean the practices of a younger cohort are unfairly misconstrued by an elder one. Letting admission offices assume they can infer an applicant’s character from social media profiles sets a dangerous precedent.

It is unfair that this generation of students has to monitor its online social activity when their parents never had to worry about these things. One could argue this is merely a consequence of living in such a technologically based age and that students merely must exercise caution when posting something publicly. Though these claims are true, the practice remains a violation of students’ privacy and might create situations in which an admission officer wrongfully punishes a student for a social media post. Given the potential for harm, we recommend that college admission officers remain removed from a student’s social media presence.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Rachel Occhiogrosso, and its members, Daniel Jeon, Hannah Loewentheil and Thomas Nath. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com. 

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