Want a scholarship? Watch what you post online

What can students do? They can make sure their privacy settings are correctly configured. But these settings can give a false sense of security.

“Friends on Facebook have information about you, and they can pass it on to other people,” said Danielle Citron, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law who specializes in internet privacy. “They don’t need your permission to share it with someone.”

Remember the Duke University student who rated her lovers in a chart that she eMailed to three friends? “One wasn’t too much of a friend and forwarded it on,” Citron said.

That eMail went viral—and not just in this country. When I Googled the incident, the top story was an article on the Duke student from a newspaper in the United Kingdom.

Sometimes students have little choice but to share their online information. Students receiving athletic scholarships sometimes are asked to provide passwords to their social media sites, Citron says.

Kantrowitz added that some scholarship providers require finalists to “friend” them on Facebook. You can always refuse—but then you’re not going to get the money.

The better course is to maintain a professional online presence so you don’t give scholarship providers—or colleges and future employers—any ammunition against you.

Kantrowitz advises students to Google their names to see if anything unflattering pops up. If possible, he said, see if you can revise the information.

Also, watch what you say online. People say things online that they never would say to someone face to face, Citron said. Students should post comments that they would be comfortable sharing with their parents and teachers, she said.

And avoid unprofessional eMail addresses. “‘Hotmama21’ is not an appropriate eMail address,” Kantrowitz said. Stick with your first and last name in the address.

Eileen Ambrose is a personal finance columnist at the Baltimore Sun. Copyright (c) 2012, The Baltimore Sun. Visit The Baltimore Sun online at www.baltimoresun.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services.