Aspiring MBAs: Do You Need to Scrub Your Social Media Profile?

The social media antics of MBA applicants are fast becoming a new area of scrutiny for admissions officials at many top business schools. In fact, one prominent MBA admissions consulting firm has even begun to offer a  “social media audit” to prepare for applicants for Google and Facebook searches by admissions teams.

The company, Chicago-based The MBA Exchange, combs the Internet for damaging information left on websites by applicants or their friends: from a Foursquare check-in at a strip club to a Flickr photo of drunken friends at an out-of-control house party.

Dan Bauer, managing director of The MBA Exchange, says he came up with the  idea for the service last summer after visiting with several admissions officials at top business schools.

“We realized there is a growing trend among B-schools to go beyond the submitted application by also exploring a candidate’s social media profile,” says Bauer. “The admissions staff wants to see how future MBAs present themselves on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. “

Bauer and his consultants then began asking their clients how carefully they managed their own social networking profiles. “The response was nearly universal: ‘I’m really not sure,’” he says. “It’s not just what applicants post, but also what has been posted about them — or about others with the same name — that can jeopardize their chances for MBA admission.”

Harvard Business School, through a spokesperson, confirmed that it now does Internet searches on applicants. However, most business schools do not have a pro-active policy of online screening but are likely to do so if something seems amiss in the formal application.

“We don’t systematically Google applicants or look up people on Facebook,” says Lisa Beisser, senior associate director of MBA admissions at North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. “But if something strange comes up in an applicant’s essay, we will check a Facebook page.”

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business also lacks a “specific policy or procedure to systematically review the social media sites of each applicant,” according to a spokesperson. But “if something like this were brought to an admissions officer’s attention, it would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis just as all the information we have on any given candidate is,” the Stanford official says.

Some tech savvy applicants, using reverse search techniques, have told other admissions consultants that they discovered that some business schools were doing Google searches on their names. At many top business schools, including Chicago’s Booth and the Wharton School, second-year students and alumni often screen and interview applicants. They may be far more likely to perform a Google search on someone they’re evaluating for admission.

OOPS. THE APPLICANT WHO POSED IN FRONT OF A ‘SHOPPE’ IN AMSTERDAM’S INFAMOUS RED-LIGHT DISTRICT.

“Admission decisions are so subjective,” adds Beisser. “Many are looking for a reason to admit or deny so it could push someone over the edge.” So far, says Bauer that his firm has uncovered several near-catastrophic boo-boos by current applicants to several top-tier MBA programs, including Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and Columbia. Some examples:

-An applicant who unfortunately shares the same name as a convicted murderer.

-An applicant who had featured photos on Flickr of himself proudly posing in front of a “shoppe” in Amsterdam’s infamous red-light district.

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.