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November 15, 2013

Dear Elizabeth, I “liked” that pic – but colleges won't


By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

Dear Elizabeth,

You’re applying to college right now – and I’m incredibly proud of you.

I swear I haven’t lost my sense of humor:  your toga-clad Spirit Week photos made me laugh out loud. But, uh… I’m your aunt. I know exactly how smart and talented and capable you are. I distinctly remember the first time I thought, ‘Man this girl is smart. She could probably get a job and rent an apartment right now,’ and you were only 6!

So please don’t take this the wrong way.

This week, there was an article about a girl whose social media postings left an impression on a college she was planning to apply to. The impression she left: terrible.

“At Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Me., admissions officers are still talking about the high school senior who attended a campus information session last year for prospective students. Throughout the presentation, she apparently posted disparaging comments on Twitter about her fellow attendees, repeatedly using a common expletive. Perhaps she hadn’t realized that colleges keep track of their social media mentions.” (From “They loved your GPA, then they saw your tweets” by Natasha Singer published 11/10/13 in the New York Times)

I know you would never do that. But let’s face it, applying to college is a ton of work: getting transcripts together, asking for recommendations, researching schools, playing the stats game comparing your GPAs and SATs to last year’s admitted students’ averages. And every year it’s a process that only gets harder. We all did a double take when my kid brother – your Uncle Mike – didn’t get into colleges that I did – and that was just three years later. Now it’s an even bigger hurdle. After approving your academics, scores, and essays, now, according to a new Kaplan survey, a third of admissions officers are googling your name to see what comes up or Facebooking you. I hate that on your behalf.

So though I know exactly how smart and talented and capable you are, some of your posts and tweets don’t always reflect that. And that worries me.

Because while you’re not the one flipping off the camera in that one group shot, well, it’s still on your page. And then there’s the one of you kissing your boyfriend. But how will a college admissions officer know he’s the guy who comes to family dinners, is respectful, and is genuinely a terrific human being and not just a drunken dude at a pool party?

Here’s the paragraph that compelled me to write you this letter:

“Admissions officials also said they had occasionally rejected applicants, or revoked their acceptances, because of online materials. … [one school’s dean of admission] once called a student, to whom [that school] had already offered acceptance, to check whether an alcohol-related incident that was reported online was indeed true. (It was, and [that school] rescinded the offer of admission.)”

 When I read this, I thought: ‘Wait, what?’

There could be so much more to this story – but as it was reported this student earned his spot fair and square and showed integrity in answering honestly about a drunken party. And they still rescinded the offer. The idea of that happening to you just breaks my heart. Because I know exactly how wonderful you are – and what a huge letdown that would be.

I’m not trying to stomp on your childhood. It may not be fair, but in the new era of digital Big Brother it’s best to be aware.




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As a mother of a 17 year old and a youth group leader, I love,love, love the message. The internet has opened so many doors to be discovered, however, sometimes we don't think about what exactly is being discovered. It is unfair to think that the assumption of one picture can ruin your future endeavors but it is the truth and we have to get our youth to realize.

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