Harvard Rescinds Admissions Offers – Could Your College Be Next?

Posted By Terri Williams on June 16, 2017 at 3:00 pm
Harvard Rescinds Admissions Offers – Could Your College Be Next?

Social media blunders have claimed another batch of victims. At least 10 students who had been accepted into Harvard University found themselves no longer members of Harvard’s Class of 2021 after their admissions offers were rescinded.

To put this in perspective, in 2016, out of the 39,041 students that applied to Harvard, only 2,106 received admissions offers. This year, the Ivy League school accepted 2,056 of its 39,506 applicants . . . well, it accepted 2,046 students, although 10 students on the school’s waiting list probably received an early Christmas present.

So, who gets accepted into Harvard University and then has that offer rescinded based on social media activity?  The students who formed a private Facebook group and shared messages and images that included, among other things, jokes about the Holocaust, sexual abuse, and assaulting children.

Harvard has an official Facebook group for the Class of 2021, but some of those members formed a private messaging group in which to exchange posts.

This was Harvard’s second such incident in two years. Last year, some of the students in the Class of 2020 formed a GroupMe chat to exchange jokes about minorities and feminists. Those students were not disciplined.

Opinions are divided in both incidents. Some critics have argued that since the groups were private, Harvard had no right to intervene. But other critics have pointed out that it was some of the group’s members that exposed these actions, and when the school became aware of the type of content involved in these splinter groups, it could not afford to turn a blind eye.

Admissions offers and social media

Forget test scores – social media may determine if you get into college. Recent research from Kaplan Test Prep reveals that 35% of college admissions officers are checking social media sites. So, applicants need to scrub their social media accounts until they’re squeaky clean.

And, as Harvard’s example shows, even after students have been accepted, they need to remain vigilant to hold onto their admissions offers. Yariv Alpher, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of research, tells GoodCall®, “Colleges spend a lot of time and effort building a community of smart and caring students who reflect their values, and in this case, we saw a community asserting itself and rejecting certain behaviors that did not meet their values.”

Alpher advises both applicants and their parents to understand that colleges are like communities. “When they apply, students are saying ‘I want to be part of this community,’ and Kaplan’s own research has found that admissions officers find racist posts especially offensive and they have negatively impacted prospective students’ admissions chances.”

And, he says that both administrators and fellow students care about their school’s reputation. “We can’t stress to students enough that their social footprint is their own personal calling card, and the hunt for likes, shares and comments can have unintended, negative consequences because colleges want to be sure that your values mesh with their own.”

Nadine Briggs and Donna Shea of How to Make and Keep Friends are social coaches and friendship experts. Briggs tells GoodCall® that she hires teens to work in her company, and she always checks an applicant’s social media:  If she finds something offensive, the candidate is disqualified.

And, it may not always be something that the individual has posted. Some people are guilty by association. For example, Shea advises students to untag themselves in someone else’s post if it is offensive.

Also, don’t make the mistake of trusting privacy settings. As the Harvard admissions offers example shows, those in confidential groups can expose members and information. Something else teens might not think about: claiming to be sick to skip work or an exam. But Briggs warns that posting a photo from the beach or a game could have serious negative consequences.

While these social media gaffes may be the result of youthful ignorance, they also highlight the need for critical thinking skills.

So, what should you be posting? “Within reason, anything that can give you a competitive edge in the admissions process is a good idea,” Alpher advises. “For instance, if you are a talented athlete, record your games and post your winning goal to YouTube.”

However, Alpher says admissions offers are still more likely to be decided by SAT and ACT scores, in addition to other factors, such as high school GPAs, personal essays, and letters of recommendation. He concludes, “What you do online remains a wildcard – it may not get you in, but it can definitely keep you out.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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