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Facebook and College Applications: Oil and Water?

By Brendan Conway updated on Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Facebook! It's fun! It's wonderful! It's dangerous!

Dangerous? How is Facebook dangerous, you ask?

2007: Zachary Good was a junior at Penn State, and a writer for the Daily Collegian, Penn State's student newspaper. He was fired from that position. Why? Because of inflammatory comments he made on Facebook concerning a fundraising event at Penn State.

In the same year, Kevin Colvin was fired from his position in an internship at the Anglo Irish Bank for putting pictures of himself in a costume on Halloween onto Facebook, after having asked for time off on Halloween due to a "family emergency."

2008: 13 employees of Virgin Atlantic were fired for having made insulting comments about passengers and the quality of the plane on their Facebook pages.

2009: Dan Leone, who worked for the Philadelphia Eagles, was fired after he criticized the actions of the Eagles with profuse expletives on his Facebook account.

2010: Jamere Holland, a football player at the University of Oregon, made some racially charged comments on his Facebook profile and was kicked off the team as a result.

2011: Doyle Byrnes, a nursing student at Johnson County Community College, was expelled for having put a picture of herself holding a human placenta onto her Facebook account. Three other students were expelled along with Ms. Byrnes.

These are just a few stories out there of how using Facebook can have rather unintended consequences. According to a 2009 statistic, 8% of companies out in the world today reported having dismissed employees for the use of Facebook or other social media sites, and that number has only risen since.

With all that taken into account, would you really be at all surprised to find out that college admissions officers are going to look at applicants' Facebook profiles? That they may make decisions based on what they see?

No? Not surprised? Good. That's the first step in being able to protect yourself and prepare your Facebook profile for the admissions process. Follow these tips and tricks, and you'll be able to steer clear of a Facebook fiasco with your own name on it.

1. Discretion is the better part of getting into college
Don't say anything on Facebook that you wouldn't say in a loud, strong voice, in public. It's an even better idea to go with, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," but if you've just got to let 'er rip with something not so nice, think twice about it. If it's not up on Facebook (or on the Internet at all), then it can't come back to bite you.

2. Keep yourself to…yourself
Use Facebook's tools to remove yourself from Facebook's searching tools. Go to your search privacy settings page, and set your search visibility to "Only Friends." This will keep people who aren't your friends on Facebook from finding your profile. Now, all you'll have to do is make sure you only friend people you're okay with seeing your profile. Meaning, you'll probably want to avoid friending teachers, professors, or admissions officers at colleges.

3. Privacy and Google don't mix
Make sure there's no public search listing for your Facebook profile. You can do this on the same search privacy settings page as above. If there's a public search listing for your profile, then people can find it through Google. This is not a good thing if you want to keep your Facebook profile private. Make sure the "Create a public search listing for me and submit it for search engine indexing" box is unchecked.

4. A picture can be worth way too many words
Protect your photos, and photos of you. Plenty of times people have gotten in trouble for what they wrote on Facebook, but as many or more times, people have gotten in trouble for what they visually documented on Facebook.

In the first place, you might want to think twice before you have your friend take that picture of you with the keg held above your head as beer cascades down on your face. But beyond that, you're going to want to change the settings for your pictures so that only the people you want to see your pictures will be able to do so.

On your profile privacy page, make certain that the "Photos Tagged of You" settings are customized so that "Only Me" and "None of my networks" can see the pictures. This is the most extreme setting, and it will ensure that photos tagged of you are only visible to you, and won't be reported across the board. If you want a more nuanced setting, you can set it up on that page, too. You'll also want to make absolutely certain that your own photo albums are protected similarly. You can make your photo albums private using the Photos Privacy Page.

5. Don't make your thoughts and feelings into news
You'll want to keep your news updates restrained if you want to protect yourself from any problems with admissions officers finding out about, say, your…ahem…strong feelings after your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you. To do that, you'll have to go to your News Feed and Wall Privacy settings page. There, you can remove your relationship status from public view, so that none of that will be advertised.

What's more, you can go to your Profile Privacy page to make your Basic Information invisible, which would include your relationship information (making your relationship status invisible on your News Feed and Wall Privacy page will not remove it from your Basic Information). This will also remove anything else in the Basic Information, but that may not be a bad thing. 

6. Apps? More like trApps
Be careful around apps. They're sneaky critters, and they'll often do things, like posting messages on your friends' walls, without much warning. The simplest way to deal with this is just to stay away from apps as much as possible.

Okay, okay, I can see your look of shock from here. You don't have to totally steer clear of apps, but you'll want to be as sure as possible that these apps aren't going to do anything you're not comfortable with. You'll want to look into them, and then after you start using them, watch your wall and your friends' walls to make sure they're not doing anything nasty or suspicious.

7. Clean your wall of graffiti
Get a handle on your Wall. It's your Wall! Own it! The fact is that you have to control your wall if you want to make sure that anyone looking at your profile won't see anything untoward. This means making sure that no one is posting anything inappropriate on your wall. Even if you make sure you're tamer than a snowball of a kitten in your own posting habits, someone else might not show as much restraint. An admissions officer who sees an inappropriate post on your wall is not going to be very forgiving, despite your kitten-like sad face. So, using your Profile Privacy Settings Page, you'll want to control who can post on your wall.

8. Do unto others
This one's a matter of courtesy as much as it is self-protection. Make sure your friends are private, would you? On your Profile Privacy page, you can flip your friends' visibility on your own account, so that only those you want to be able to can see who your friends are. This should keep them protected, and it'll incline them to do the same for you.

9. Use a minesweeper on your Basic Information
Make sure your Basic Information is cleaned up and safe. You don't want to have anything vulgar, or incisive, or disturbing, or problematic in that information. That's going to be one of the first things that anyone looking at your Facebook page is going to see, and if they see something that turns them off to you, then you're in trouble. It's hard to reverse a first impression.

10. Vigilance
Maintain. Everything listed above? Keep watching it. Make sure that your Facebook profile remains under your control, displaying what you want it to be displaying to the rest of the world, in the manner you choose. Facebook's own rules and settings may change, and if they do, it may disrupt your current set up. Stay on it, so everything stays the way you want it to.

Don't drop the ball just because you've been accepted, either; after you've been accepted, you have even more at stake, and you don't want your acceptance to be retracted after you post about how awesome it was when you were so drunk you shoved a glowstick up your nose.

(Also, don't post about shoving glowsticks up your nose. See points 1 and 4.)

(Actually, just don't shove glowsticks up your nose. It doesn't end well.)


Have any other suggestions for how to keep your Facebook profile private and clean? Drop us a line on our Facebook page! Just keep it clean!

About the Author

Brendan Conway is the Web Content Editor for Peterson's Interactive and is well-versed in the world of higher education and admissions. He is a graduate of Hamilton College, and has been working in admissions advice, test-prep advice, career planning advice, and similar fields for the majority of his career since graduation. Brendan endeavors to provide the most relevant, useful, and interesting information via Peterson's Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ feeds. Brendan enjoys lexicological oddities and voraciously reading in his free time.

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