Harvard Revokes College Admission to Select Students Over Facebook Posts

June 21, 2017
Russell Schaffer

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Harvard University sends a strong message about inappropriate online behavior. Louisiana becomes the first state to ban asking college applicants about any criminal record. One member of the class of 2021 wrote a memorable essay that went viral. Campus visits aren’t all the same. Here’s what’s happening on the college admissions landscape:


Harvard University took some drastic actions earlier this month when it was discovered that nearly a dozen of their incoming freshmen were posting some truly deplorable photos and memes on a private Facebook page. In their posts, students mocked the disabled, the Holocaust victims, and other groups in some of the most mean-spirited ways possible. Apparently, someone with a guilty conscience in the group alerted the school’s newspaper. When the administration found out, it revoked the admissions offers of the offending parties involved.

As Yariv Alpher, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of research said, “The Harvard situation should underscore to college applicants that the application process doesn’t end after you’ve accepted an admissions offer. Administrators and college students remain deeply protective of their school’s brand and are willing to take measures to defend it.” There are some valuable lessons in this for college applicants. Among them: Think before you post…or in this case, don’t post at all.

Can’t ask

Earlier this month, Louisiana became the first state in the country to “ban the box,” a phrase meaning that colleges and universities cannot ask applicants if they’ve ever been convicted by a crime. What’s making this especially interesting is that Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, signed the bill, which was passed by a Republican-controlled legislature, in what is generally considered one of America’s most conservative states. But this seemed to be a bipartisan issue.

“What research shows is that two out of three people with convictions that want to go to college when they start the application and they see the question, they stop,” said Annie Freitas, Program Director with the Louisiana Prison Education Coalition.

The State University of New York system implemented this rule last year, but it only applies to public institutions within its own system. It doesn’t apply statewide. A similar bill was proposed in Maryland, but the governor vetoed it, citing safety concerns.

“Cheesey” essay

Kaplan Test Prep strongly advised college applicants to think carefully about what they write for their essays. While not nearly the most important college admissions factor, it’s one of last best shots to really wow the school. Write what you are passionate about, for example. And that’s exactly what a Carolina Williams, a student from Brentwood Tennessee did this cycle by writing about a chain restaurant’s pizza. She credits it for helping her get into Yale, but there’s a twist. Here’s a snippet of her essay:

“When the delivery person rings my doorbell, I instantly morph into one of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating to the sound that signals the arrival of the cheesy, circular glory. It smells like celebration, as I love to rejoice a happy occasion by calling Papa John’s for my favorite food.”

Yale wrote her back, with one regional admissions officer saying, “I kept thinking that you are the kind of person that I would love to be best friends with.“ Ultimately though, it wasn’t a school’s rank that won over Carolina, but a sense of feeling “at home.” She decided to enroll at Auburn University instead.

Campus visits

One of the most important pieces of the college admissions process is visiting campuses. Firstly, we realize that not everyone has the time or financial resources to visit every college they plan on applying to…especially if it’s far away. But did you know that not every campus tour is created equal? Colleges have created quite a few experiences depending on what kind of student you are.

  • Virtual tour: This is by far the most cost-effective and time-effective option. Go for a visit right from your computer or tablet.
  • Walking tour: See the campus via a formal tour organized by the university, usually given by a current undergraduate.
  • Overnight visits: This means spending the weekend on campus, possibly in a dormitory with a current student.

“They also are having a chance to see what dorm life is like, talking to the kids in the dorm, actually sleeping there, going for a meal, that type of thing. It’s a little bit less organized than when you’re doing an extended visit,” says one expert about overnight visits.

Check with the colleges you’re applying to about what their offerings are and then have a discussion with your parents and high school counselor about it.


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Russell Schaffer

Russell Schaffer Russell Schaffer is Kaplan Test Prep's senior communications manager. Russell is responsible for helping lead our external media relations efforts, including speaking with reporters and bloggers on a regular basis about Kaplan's proprietary research and products. Russell also helps craft the surveys we regularly administer of students, advisers​,​ and admissions officers. The data collected helps guide the hundreds of thousands of students and parents Kaplan works with every year by giving them accurate and up-to-date information ​about​ the landscape. Russell is a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany, where he received his BA in political science and MA in communications.

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