Historically, colleges nitpicked over potential applicants’ SAT or ACT, their GPA and their list of extracurricular activities. But in recent years, colleges have been sharpening their interest in applicants’ online personas, specifically their Facebook accounts.
Graduating seniors are well aware of this development, though. In order to avoid being caught red-cup handed (or in any other compromising pose that promises to be less than impressive to college admission boards), applicants are hiding behind shrouded, fake account names in the hopes of throwing the admissions teams off their scent. And some taken even more extreme measures, deleting their accounts entirely before college application season rolls around.
As Time reports, some common graduating senior Facebook names at a New York high school include, “FunkMaster Floikes” and “Samwise Gams.”
“There’s a fairly big party scene there,” says Sam “Samwise” Bogan, who is now a freshman at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. “When the college search process comes around, people start changing their Facebook name or untagging old photos that they don’t want anyone to see. It’s kind of a ritual.”
As it turns out, Time reports, students do have cause to worry. More than 25 percent of 350 admissions officers reported looking up applicants on Facebook or Google, according to a recent Kaplan Test Prep survey. The same applies to private scholarship organizations. Many gate keepers say that inappropriate tweets or Facebook posts could be factors in their decision of whether to let an applicant into their university or award them a scholarship.
One student explained to Time why she went so far as to delete her Facebook account at the start of her junior year:
“I don’t want what I put on my Facebook or what I don’t put on my Facebook to sway their opinion of me,” she says. “I just don’t think it’s fair for them to base acceptance on that.”
Many of her classmates agree, and have already restricted privacy settings so that their names don’t appear in a public Facebook search. One student went so far as to delete photos taken during 8th grade that didn’t reflect the image she is now trying to convey to schools. As young as 16, some students are already making an effort to wipe the digital slate clean. Just in case.
It’s difficult to determine whose side Facebook is on, however. While some paranoid students openly accuse Facebook of being in cahoots with admissions boards, it is true that Facebook may impose consequences on those who change their Facebook names to ensure privacy. The company can ban users who adopt fake or duplicate names, and it encourages other users to report fake accounts.
But regardless of Facebook’s allegiance or the admissions boards’ level of digging, Time explains, many high school students seem to intuitively realize a fact that it’s taken others longer to grasp: the internet is written in ink, not pencil.
More from Smithsonian.com: