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Ethics in Admissions: Using LinkedIn to Make Connections to Get Junior into College

A colleague recently asked a question about using LinkedIn as a way to make connections that will somehow raise kids’ changes of getting into college. I found the question thought provoking, so I took the time to craft a response.

Here’s the original question: Is it both poor judgment and unethical to request inside connections to university admission on LinkedIn?

I have now seen two questions on LinkedIn from parents trying to find connections to get their children into specific schools. Frankly this strikes me as a total lack of judgment.

It is unethical because it turns this forum into a market place for influence peddling on admissions processes that should be conducted on the basis of the applicant’s actual ability.

It is also shows a total lack of discretion given the public nature of this forum. Should the questioner’s child actually get into the school in question, there is the real possibility of someone finding out what the parent did.
I am certainly not naive about the value of influence on admissions processes, but frankly anyone who actually had the influence would be unlikely to use it for someone who completely lacks discretion.

I would like to know what other members of LInkedIn think. if you disagree with me, feel free to make mincemeat out of my position.

This is my response to the question.

1. There’s nothing unethical about asking for connections through LinkedIn. It’s more about the assumptions one has when fishing for these connections that raise red flags. Does the seeker want a fast track to admissions? Or does the seeker just want some good information about a particular college that an alumnus might be able to provide? I’m happy to provide information about Dartmouth, or Tufts, or any of the other universities that I know and love (or not) across the country. I make my living as an information broker.

2. I agree with Maxx that most people do not understand that such fishing expeditions can really backfire. Admissions people to not want to be pressured by some random alumnus or Senator Blowhard to accept a candidate. Actually, they react very negatively to such pressure. Let’s take this scenario: a worried parent seeks a “connection” through LinkedIn, and someone who seemingly has ties with the college in question responds, and even goes as far as to write a letter of support for the child of our worried parent. The admissions office will see that this letter does not reflect knowledge of the child’s record or acquaintance with the child’s accomplishments or personality. Do people really think admissions officers are so stupid? They tell me all the time that the letter from Senator Blowhard, while seemingly “impressive,” does NOTHING to help a kid’s chances of admissions–and may even harm those chances because it is so audacious. (Only excption: the letter of nomination for the service academies, which MUST come from a senator).

3. An alumnus or other person (you? me?) who is truly connected with a college would not be so dumb as to jeopardize that relationship on behalf of a LinkedIn acquaintance. Those of us with real professional connections to admissions offices will use whatever small amount of influence we possess quite sparingly, if only in the self-interested pursuit of maintaining that influence. I like to think that most of us in this business are more professional than that, however, because we believe that the admissions process should have some integrity (even as we know that it doesn’t always).

4. To take up Susan Etheridge’s point, it is true that a few souls will donate money to a college to get their progeny in. It happens, but probably not as often as urban legends might have us think. Those people with the resources to donate the required sums (in the millions of dollars), do not need to fish for connections on LinkedIn. The have plenty more useful connections on speed dial.

So when I see these pleas for connections that are veiled attempts to get Junior into the “right” college, I just chuckle. If I think about it too hard, I guess I could get indignant. But generally I think people who want to use LinkedIn to get Sissy into college are just silly.

Mark Montgomery
Montgomery Educational Consulting

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