Facebook's Latest Role: College Guidance Counselor

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The college-admissions process used to be relatively private, but that's all changing thanks to Facebook. After all, it's not hard to figure out who got in where when your classmate joins a group called "New York University Class of 2013" — and Facebook's news feed rubs it in your face.

Sophie Ramayat, an 18-year-old in Silicon Valley, joined the NYU 2013 group as well as groups for three other schools she was accepted into — the University of Richmond, the University of Washington and American University — and has been browsing the discussion boards on them to get a preview of life on the different campuses. "You can kind of tell what the students are like," she says. "I noticed that everyone at the University of Richmond is white." (See how to get off college waiting lists.)

Some of the 1,300 members of the NYU 2013 group — which is exceptionally active, with some 200 newcomers joining each day — use the site to discuss the pros and cons of attending the school. "I got into Johns Hopkins and NYU and I don't know where to go," wrote a girl from Albany, N.Y. "They are so different and will both cost me the same. Someone on here please persuade me ASAP." (See pictures of the evolution of dorm life.)

Officials from at least one college have copped to reading these kinds of deliberations. "Facebook has been a wonderful way for us to hear what students are thinking," says M.J. Knoll-Finn, Emerson College's vice president for enrollment. "Before, we'd only hear from the exceptionally ecstatic or upset student who bothered to write in, but now we can see exactly what the average accepted student is thinking and how they're deciding between schools."

While most Class of 2013 groups are formed by admitted students, Emerson is one of the few schools that runs its own Facebook page. "This is completely new for us," says Mike Petroff, Emerson's Web manager, who started the group in January at the request of an early-decision applicant. Petroff responds to students' questions — When is the open house? How do they set up their e-mail accounts? — and even plans to post video tours of the college for students who can't visit Emerson in person. But for the most part, he sits back and lets the students communicate with one another.

Facebook's admitted-student groups are yet another wild card in the college-admissions game, which is even trickier this year, given that the recession has school officials fretting over the number of students who will ultimately enroll. "I think it's safe to say that this is the most uncertain year in terms of predicting what students will do," says Christoph Guttentag, Duke University's dean of undergraduate admissions. "I honestly don't know how the economy is going to affect things." (See how one school uses financial aid to reel in students.)

Since most colleges give students until May to accept an offer of enrollment, admissions officers won't find out the true repercussions of the economic downturn for several weeks. But if Facebook groups are any indication, the class of 2013 is just as excited to join the world of dorm rooms, frat parties and communal bathrooms as were the many classes that came before them. "Oh man," says Mark Harber, an 18-year-old from Tulsa, Okla., who joined Vanderbilt's 2013 group within hours of receiving his acceptance letter. "I can't wait."

And of course, with Facebook becoming synonymous with full disclosure, students are also using the site to detail where they didn't get in. One group called "REJECTED! Class of 2013" includes a series of posts from a girl in Seattle about finding out she got turned down by Cornell, Brown, MIT and her first choice, the University of Chicago. Even some admitted-student groups are full of kids licking their wounds. Ted Williams was rejected from Yale but accepted at Wesleyan. When he joined the WesAdmits 2013 group, he found a number of other students in the same position. "There was a chain of posts from other people who'd also gotten rejected from Ivies," he says. "It was nice to have a little bit of commiseration."

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