Parents React to Colleges Monitoring Prospective Students

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COLUMBIA - As a parent of two high school students, Anne Merrifield said she tries to keep an eye on her kids' web presence because she knows colleges and future employers could be watching them too.

"I don't know if it's so much of an issue of being comfortable with it or not," Merrifield said. "I think it's more of an issue of needing to accept that that's the way it's going to be."

The percentage of college admissions offices that search prospective students online has been steadily rising since 2008, according to a survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep. The survey found that this year, 29 percent of admissions officers had used Google and 31 percent had visited Facebook to learn more about applicants.

However, the survey also said fewer admissions offices reported finding anything online that negatively affected applicants. A separate survey also found that students are becoming less concerned about what admissions offices might find if they did search for them online.

Rock Bridge High School Guidance Director Betsy Jones said at her school, lessons about online appropriateness are incorporated into the curriculum. Jones said she thinks most students know what is and is not appropriate, and that their presence is being monitored.

"I think for the most part students are aware; I think parents for the most part now are aware," Jones said.

Christina Stokes, who has a 17-year-old daughter, said she doesn't have any problem with colleges viewing her daughter's Facebook page or looking her up online.

"If a parent raises their children correctly, to be responsible--I mean they have to be responsible on the Internet no matter where they go, but especially with their social media--then I don't see why they shouldn't be able to view it and use that as a judgment of character," Stokes said.

Jones said she does worry about students whose parents do not talk with them about web presence.

"I think some students don't think past right now," she said. "But those are students who probably do not have parents who are highly involved in their lives. So for some kids, it gets them into trouble, what they post online."

Merrifield echoed that sentiment, saying that while she feels her kids are responsible online, she said she has seen some of their friends posting things that she feels are inappropriate.

"I do worry about those kids that don't have the support networks, the relationships and the folks that really pay attention and keep track and care because it could really come back to bite them when they get older, if more and more colleges do indeed check the media sites," Merrifield said.