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Dr. Jane S. Gabin
Dr. Jane S. Gabin is an independent college counselor in New York City. She has worked at several private schools in the metro area, including the Frisch School, Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, and the United Nations International School. She was an admissions officer for 10 years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and an English teacher at Chapel Hill High School and at her alma mater, Queens College of the City University of New York. She is a member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling and its New York and New Jersey chapters.
Q: How difficult is it to transfer to another college? Is it easier or harder than getting admitted as a freshman? Also, does the college you are applying to look at your high school record or just your college record?
A: The basic answer to all your questions above is: It depends.
Openings for transfer students are made possible by other students leaving the college. A school with a high retention rate will have fewer openings. In general, the more selective a college, the fewer places it will have. On the other hand, a less selective school which is also more affordable, may be experiencing a higher demand for places -- so it may be harder to be admitted as a transfer student there this year than it was last year.
In sum, the "it depends" factors are these:
- the selectivity of the colleges
- the number of openings they have
- the strength of your academic record, both high school and college
- the individual requirements of the colleges
Look for "transfer admissions" on a college's website. You will see that one school requires a minimum college GPA of 2.70 and another may require a 3.00. Having this GPA is no guarantee of acceptance. Another school may simply require you to be "in good academic standing" at your current college. You may also notice that some schools accept all of the credits you've already earned, while others may not. There is no one rule that fits all!
In general, your high school record will be looked at carefully if you are applying to transfer during your first year of college. Because you have actually not completed that much college work, the emphasis will be upon your high school transcript and test scores, plus any college work. If you apply to transfer during your second year, you will have completed a year and a half of college, so it will be your college transcript that is emphasized, and high school/test scores fade into the background. (You will still need to submit an official high school transcript so they can see you are a bona fide graduate).
If your high school record was not as strong as your college record, you will have a better chance applying to transfer as a college junior, rather than as a sophomore. People change and mature, and so do academic records. If high school was not your strongest time, do well at your first college, and you will have a better possibility of transferring. If you apply to graduate school or for employment, it's not where you began your college education that counts. It's where you complete your degree.
The best strategy is to make a list of the schools to which you are considering a transfer, examine their individual transfer requirements, and call the transfer admission counselors with questions. If the schools are nearby, it's best to set up appointments for personal meetings.
Q: My stepson is a high school junior and lives in Puerto Rico. He really wants to go to college in New York City. Can you recommend a good website or resource for us to help him prepare for the application process?
A: New York City is one of the world's best college towns! There are colleges and universities in every borough, for every field of study, and in a wide range of price and accessibility. The list is too long to give here, but it includes Columbia University, Barnard College, New York University, Marymount Manhattan, Cooper Union, Pratt Institute, St. John's University, Wagner College, and the 16 campuses of the City University of New York. (Never heard of Wagner College? Check it out. It's a "hidden gem" on Staten Island!)
Students in New York City can get a two-year Associate's degree at a community college, a four-year bachelor's -- even go on to graduate school, law school, nursing or medical school, or business school. There are specialized schools for studying art, computers, medical technology, fashion, music, music production, aviation, merchandising, and education. The most expensive colleges can cost over $50,000 a year while others charge less than a fifth of that amount.
Your stepson might be a bit overwhelmed at first by the sheer amount of information available, but if he starts methodically he will be able to come up with a manageable shopping list. An excellent place to start is the College Board which gives basic facts about the 3500+ colleges and universities in the U.S.
He can narrow the criteria, asking for colleges in New York or even asking for schools within 20 miles of a zipcode. Each listing gives a link to the college's website, where he can explore some more. The "Admissions" or "Prospective Students" section will tell him what the entrance requirements are, and offer a way for students to request information or join a mailing list. With his email address, he can sign up for more information than he'll have time to read!
CUNY's website features the colleges that make up the City University of New York -- Brooklyn College, Queens College, Baruch, John Jay and many others. He can see which ones match his interests.
Beyond looking at website, ideally he will be able to visit and spend a couple of days touring schools. Walking around a campus, having a meal in the dining hall, chatting with students, possibly sitting in on a class -- all of these will give your stepson an idea of the variety and excitement of college life.
The least expensive schools will be the branches of CUNY. (As a non-New Yorker, your son may have to pay out-of-state tuition, but that is a separate legal matter which can be answered by the financial aid offices at CUNY.) Private colleges, as opposed to the publicly-funded ones, will range from moderate to very expensive.
It might not be too early for your stepson to start investigating the financial aid process. In addition to information available online, an event called College Goal Sunday, sponsored by the YMCA, offers financial aid information and advice at sites all over the U.S. and in Puerto Rico; in fact there is an event on March 28 in Puerto Rico, and on Feb. 6 in all five boroughs of NYC.
Many resources are available to you and your stepson to help you navigate this process. Junior year is the perfect time for him to begin exploring all his options!
Q: My daughter applied Early Decision to an Ivy League school and just found out she was "deferred." Her college counselor told her the school was a "reach," but my daughter chose to apply anyway because she really loves this college and felt she had a good chance. Her grades and scores are very high and, frankly, she is one of the top achievers at her school. Now she is devastated. A "no" might have been easier to deal with -- but "deferred"? Is this just a nicer way of saying "no"? It seems to me a kind of admissions limbo. Why do they do this?
A: A deferral is not a denial, but you are right -- it is a type of limbo, where your daughter's application is hovering, neither accepted nor rejected. It's not a comfortable place to be, but not entirely hopeless. Your daughter is obviously an excellent student, as this Ivy League school is still interested in her -- they want to keep her in the running. Her college counselor was right, though, in telling her that this college was a "reach." Because competition for admission to Ivies is so keen, and because their acceptance rates are extremely low (many under 10%), they are all "reach" schools no matter how strongly qualified the applicants.
Going into the application process with this understanding should ward off optimism, but it's hard not be hopeful. So of course your daughter feels tremendously let down. She might feel a bit better if she realizes that, having had the courage to take herself into a hugely competitive arena, she survived the first cut.
Colleges want to woo and lure students into their applicant pool. They participate in college fairs, they visit the high schools, they mail students glossy brochures, they have enticing websites, and if they have a student's e-mail address, they send everything from campus updates to holiday cards. Then students apply, and the tables are turned. Now the colleges have the upper hand, and students have to woo them.
You, your daughter, and your daughter's counselor want what is best for her; but the colleges want what is best for them. They say they are looking for a unique freshman class composed of students who are just the right "fit" for them -- but they don't want to fill up that class too fast. They obviously do think your daughter might be a good fit, but they also want to save room for other applicants -- because the majority of students will be sending in their applications in January. If a college takes too many students from the Early Decision applicant pool, they may not have enough spaces for the excellent applicants coming down the road. Hence the decision to "defer" many Early Decision applicants and look at them again later.
So what to do now? First, your daughter might wish to call the college's admissions office, or the representative who visited her school, and have a brief chat. What could she do to improve her application? What further information could she provide to give the college an even better idea of her credentials? She might get only a vague answer about why she was deferred, but it is better to make the contact than not to. And I emphasize that she should make the call, not you or her counselor. Colleges admire applicants who advocate for themselves.
She should then follow up this call with a brief note reaffirming her interest. I suggest a written note (the retro kind, on paper, in a stamped envelope!) because it will be noticed among the thousands of e-mails that an admissions office receives each week. And then she needs to send her first-semester grades and significant updates on her activities. These communications should not be too frequent, or the admissions office will feel itself stalked. Your daughter should meet with her college counselor to plan a strategy of what to send, and when.
Many deferred students are indeed accepted during the next round of admissions decisions in March. But many will be wait-listed or denied. It' a gamble, so of course your daughter needs to be submitting applications to other colleges. But if she is still interested in her Ivy League choice, she needs to be proactive in keeping her application alive.
After all, the college is obviously still interested in her or they would not have kept her in the applicant pool. They are not looking to burden themselves with extra paperwork -- they defer students because they want to give them another chance, they want to review them again. At the same time, your daughter needs to look out for own best interests, and make her other applications wholehearted and sincere. Good luck!
Q: I understand the importance of the college essay, and how admissions people use it to get a sense of the whole applicant beyond the transcript and test scores. But what's the point of all those short essays? Write p 277 of your autobiography! Write a haiku about yourself! Why are you applying to us? These short essays are annoying and I don't see the purpose. Don't they already have enough information in the application to make a decision?
A: I am sure that every other student working to submit an application by the deadline has been similarly annoyed and wonders the same thing. But don't kid yourself - these "short" questions are of the utmost importance! Admissions officers have a tremendous amount of work to do; they are not making up extra questions just to give you and them more to do! There is a reason. For one thing, college admissions people know that the longer essay, which is usually considered to be "the" essay, may have been tweaked and edited and corrected by mom, dad, teachers, Uncle Fred, or even a paid advisor, and may no longer represent the genuine voice of the student. And the genuine, natural voice is what they want to hear. Dashing off - not being thoughtless, but being a bit more spontaneous - those short answers might reveal more of the unprompted writer.
Remember that an application should give a multi-dimensional picture of the applicant. The short answers that you might think are trivial, actually add something to this portrait.
And if a college asks the question - "why are you applying to our college?" - please take this very seriously. They are not looking for you simply to praise their school. Neither are they looking for you to regurgitate information easily found on their website or publications. So if you say "I want to attend X College because it's ranked #3 in the nation for . . ." or "I want to go to your school because it's only 20 minutes from Boston" or "X College is for me because it offers a choice of 38 majors" you will have failed the test. Anyone can write those things.
They want to see that you have truly reflected on your choice. In this way they may be able to tell the difference between a sincere applicant and one who wants to use them as a safety school or back-up. If they have two applicants whose qualifications are very similar, but one applicant sounds sincere and the other sounds not fully interested, which applicant do you think they will choose?
Q: How can I possibly make my application special when colleges are getting thousands of them? How can mine be different and get their attention?
A: How can you make your application stand out? It's a challenge, especially when you are using the Common Application, which makes every application look the same -- neat, yes, but also visually uniform and therefore potentially boring for admissions officers facing stacks of identical applications.
Of course, the contents of your application, rather than its appearance, ought to be its most outstanding aspect. Still, adding some visual spice can have the effect of making the people reading your application slow down a bit and really notice the contents.
But be careful.
You don't want to be too gimmicky. Quirky, maybe, but not odd, and never should you seem immature or inappropriate. In my years of reading applications, I was amazed by what some students sent: framed paintings, their family coat of arms, an essay mounted on a huge laminated plaque, modeling portfolios, or home-baked treats (which we never ate!). One student sent photocopies of every award certificate he had ever received, beginning with a coloring contest in 1st grade. Another sent a sheaf of a dozen recommendations from family friends; this looked like a "campaign" on the student's behalf, and was a turn-off.
Then there were the inappropriate photographs, showing applicants in suggestive poses or simply looking very foolish. All of these got the attention of the admissions staff -- negative attention. You don't want the people looking through your application folder laughing at you, thinking you cannot tell the difference between the important and the trivial, or suspecting that you are trying to substitute quantity of materials for quality of credentials.
The "extras" that you include have to be serious, appropriate, and must call attention to significant things about you that might otherwise be overlooked. You want admissions officers to slow down, pause, and take notice.
- a photo -- some schools make this optional, and public institutions are not even supposed to ask; but I always enjoyed connecting a face to a name. It's not a beauty contest, so head shots don't make much of an impact. I used to like seeing pictures that showed students in their lives: in a school play, in a musical group, helping with a Habitat for Humanity project, or crossing a finish line
- a resume -- yes, there is a place for activities on the Common Application, but you can highlight more of these and tell about other special skills you have on a one-page resume (just one page!); for visual variety, print it on a pastel-color piece of paper (not screaming orange)
- if you are a poet or creative writer, add one piece of your work (if you applying to a creative writing program specifically, you will be asked for a writing portfolio)
- if there been an article about you in a local newspaper, send a photocopy
- if you are a student journalist, send a photocopy of an article with your byline
- if photography is your passion, include one or two of your best pictures and tell something about where you took the photo and what you found compelling about the subject
These are just a few examples of "extras" that are perfectly appropriate. Do not send more than two extra items. Anything you mail needs to be flat and no larger than 8.5 x 11" so it fits into your folder and can be passed from reader to reader. (They can't pass around your original pottery, so don't even think of sending it!) One or two extra pieces of paper will be fine, and if they make an admissions reader sit up and really notice something special about you, it will be worth the effort.
Q: My son is a junior at a high school in Queens. He is an excellent student and would like to go to a prestigious college. But his high school is huge and the college counselors don't have much time for each student. On the other hand, my cousin's son goes to a prep school near Washington DC, and my cousin says their college counselors are known for getting kids into the best colleges. What chance does my son have competing against applicants like that?
A: I went to a very large high school myself, in Queens, many years ago. There were about 1500 students in my graduating class. Now I work at a private school, and yes, there is a vast difference in the amount of individual attention teachers and counselors are able to give to students. But statistics confirm that students in each setting are successful in the college admissions process.
Going to a private school in itself does not guarantee acceptance to any college; nor does attending a large urban public school in itself, assure rejection. Applicants are looked at in the context of their school environment, so your son will not be competing against his cousin.
I recently attended an admissions information session at an Ivy league university. The admissions rep pointed out that if they accepted students who were all exactly the same in background and qualifications, the freshman class would be pretty boring. To keep their school vigorous and stimulating, they admit students who come from a wide variety of schools, communities, and ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds who bring an array of interests and talents to campus. To do this, they recruit widely at both public and private schools. Colleges really do reach out, some more effectively than others.
As a result, the applicant pool for colleges and universities with national reputations is quite varied (I am not speaking of state universities which, regardless of how strong they are academically, tend to attract state residents). Take a look at Yale: 55% of their current freshman class comes from public high schools. At Amherst College, 58% of the freshmen are from public schools; in fact 62% of the applicants from public schools were admitted to Amherst, as compared to 31% of the private school applicants. These facts are not secret! You can find similar information on any college's website, if you look into the "freshman profile" stats. You can see that coming from a large urban high school does not -- in itself -- eliminate one's chances in the competition.
I keep using the phrase "in itself" because ultimately it comes down to individual qualifications and how they may dovetail with a college's enrollment goals. The talented violinist from a public school is going to be more desirable than the chess champion from the prep school if, that year, a college is seeking string players to build up its orchestral program.
How do applicants bring themselves to the attention of admissions officers? At a small private school, the college counselors are expected to advocate for their students with the admissions offices. Over the years, a relationship of trust develops between secondary schools and admissions offices. Colleges come to see that applicants from certain high schools are very well-prepared and, once admitted, are successful on campus; that strong track record, in turn, helps future applicants from that same high school. Perhaps that has happened at your cousin's school; worthy applicants are steered to certain colleges, they do well there, and over time the school has developed a reputation as a "feeder" institution.
Let's be realistic -- when there are two college counselors working with a senior class of 50 students, they have the time to write extensive, detailed letters of recommendation and they are able to send e-mails and make phone calls on behalf of their seniors. When there are three college counselors responsible for a senior class of 800, that kind of attention is less likely. But, it is not impossible. When I worked in admissions, I often read detailed, helpful letters of recommendation from counselors at large public schools; and if I had the time, I would sometimes follow up by phoning them for more information.
On the other hand, getting phone calls or e-mails from counselors at smaller schools was no guarantee that their students would be admitted. And too many of those contacts could become annoying and actually be a turn-off. Perhaps the call or note would call more attention to something in their applications, but those calls or notes did not "get them in." No counselor has that power. Ultimately, acceptance comes down to an applicant's individual merit and how his qualifications match the needs of the colleges that particular year. Admissions officers, not counselors, have the final say.
Your son may have to work somewhat harder to get noticed in the applicant pool. If his college counselor is so overloaded that he or she simply cannot do the kind of advocacy that a private school counselor can manage, then he can still work, with that counselor, on an overall strategy. In my next column I will address this issue -- "How I make my application stand out?"
By the way, I note that you refer to colleges that are "prestigious" and "best" -- please try not to shop by brand name but by "best fit" for your son's interests and needs But that's another column, too!
Q: If you are not applying for financial aid, are you required to complete the FAFSA form? We won't qualify for financial aid. I'd rather not submit this form if it's not a requirement.
A: First let me say that many families who think they don't qualify for financial aid actually might! But, to answer your question, you are not required to apply for financial aid when applying for college admission. Students who do apply for financial aid must complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Some colleges also require submission of the CSS Profile form as well. And certain colleges also require you to fill out their own additional form.
Many people are concerned with how applying for financial aid will affect their chances for admission. In most cases, it won't. A good number of colleges and universities have a policy of "need blind" admission. That means a student's financial status is not taken into account when he or she applies for admission; the decision to admit or not admit is based solely upon the student's academic qualifications.
If the student is admitted and has applied for aid, he or she is considered for a financial aid package at that time. With the current financial situation, many schools' resources are stretched thin, and applicants and their families should be aware that this package might not be as extensive as they would like it to be.
Other colleges and universities have what they call a "need aware" or "need sensitive" policy. In this case the student's ability to pay might have an impact on the admission decision.
If applicants and their families are not certain if they will qualify for financial aid, it's better to go ahead and submit the FAFSA and any other required forms. Just be aware that the first F in FAFSA stands for "free." It does not cost anything to apply for financial aid. If any company or organization writes to you offering or "guaranteeing" a scholarship if you pay a fee, toss the mailing or delete the e-mail.
Also, please be careful when submitting the FAFSA -- you have to do it online, and there are some copycat websites that look like the official FAFSA site but are ".coms"! Make sure you go to www.fafsa.ed.gov -- as this is the genuine government-sponsored site.
What advice can you give me for my 8th-grade son to prepare for Ivy League schools? His reply is "I'm only in 8th grade." But I worry as he is not in honors classes and I think he should be. He did well last year in 7th grade but all of his teachers said he could do much better as he is very bright. He is focusing on his social life and he thinks school is for social activity. How can I change his mindset? Am I worrying too soon?"
Well, yes and no. First, there is a social component to school -- if your son were studying all the time and had no friends at all, that would be a source of worry. But if his friends are responsible good students, who do not lure him into dangerous activities, that's great. Make sure he knows that his friends are always welcome in your home, because if they get together at your house, you'll know where he is! Now back to academics. You have raised a number of issues.
Let's start with the one in your first sentence. Please substitute "a high quality collegiate experience" for "Ivy League schools!" The Ivies do not have a monopoly on providing excellent education (nor does an Ivy League degree guarantee happiness, or even a job). There are hundreds of fine colleges and universities. In addition, the Ivy League schools have an acceptance rate that averages less than 10%. Because of intense competition, it's very, very hard to get in. If you convey to your son that only an Ivy League is acceptable, he may become demoralized and won't even try -- or he may try and not be accepted, and then feel like a failure. Please don't set him up for that.
Instead, try to convey in subtle ways that a college education is important, and that it is a goal he should include in his plans for the future. Does he see adults in his life enjoying their careers? Does he understand that their success and enjoyment came as a result of education? Perhaps two or three of these people could give him a pep talk. Does your son see that learning for its own sake can be fun? Do the adults around him model enthusiasm for learning things -- about art, music, science, politics? Keep the coffee table in your living room stocked with interesting magazines and library books about travel, sports, and famous people. Invite him -- and a couple of his friends -- on a trip to a nature preserve, to the Museum of Natural History, to the Cloisters, or to ride bikes around Governor's Island and visit the old fort. Just keep the stimulation out there in front of him as much as you can.
Your son is right -- he's only in 8th grade! Still, he can develop things that will help him -- all in good time -- to be a successful college applicant. He needs to be an enthusiastic reader -- students who read for fun, beyond what school courses require, generally are more successful in school and score better on standardized exams. He should develop effective work habits -- to plan ahead, do the homework each night at a certain time, turn in the work, and stay on top of deadlines. Encourage him to develop an interest (which may develop into a passion) in something: playing a sport, making music, caring for animals, helping people in need. All this takes time. Make suggestions, but try not to nag -- those of us who have parented adolescents know that nagging doesn't work and sometimes is counterproductive. Encourage him, express enthusiasm, and offer him opportunities for stimulation.
You are concerned that your son is not in honors classes this year and that he should be. Have you discussed this with his teachers? Is he bored with his current classes and would he benefit from additional challenge? Perhaps you and your son and his teachers ought to sit down and assess the situation. The main goal is for him to enjoy learning and to feel successful in school. When learning itself -- not a specific numerical grade -- is sweet and pleasurable, success will follow.
Welcome back to school! Seniors will be starting to work on their college applications in a few weeks, and while this should not dominate the most important business of the day -- doing well in senior year -- it should not be left to the last moment. Here's the first question of the 2009-2010 school year.
My son is starting his senior year and I am concerned about how to start applying for scholarships. He plays soccer and I would like to know how to approach coaches so they can see him play. Also, my son's school will not have a college counselor this year. So who in the school can I contact about helping my son with his applications?
Even though your son's high school may not have a designated college counselor, every high school should have guidance counselors whose job it is to assist him. They can answer questions about colleges, help with application questions, and advise about scholarships -- and not just athletic scholarships. Scholarship organizations send out information each fall to high school guidance offices, and this information should be posted for students to read. Your son should make an appointment with his guidance counselor early! This is especially important if there are a lot of students who are going to approach them for help -- don't wait until the application deadlines are near.
There are many procedures and rules governing athletic recruitment for college. The website of the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) outlines all the regulations. In general, it is not the student or the parent who approaches the college coaches -- this is usually done coach-to-coach. Your son needs to speak with his soccer coach soon and ask him to reach out to college coaches.
There are things your son can do on his own. A great place to start is the NCAA Eligibility Center website -- this lists, by sport, all the colleges with teams. These are listed by Division (I, II, or III). Schools are in a certain division according to how big the school is, how many students are involved in sports, how many tournaments are played, and other factors. When your son visits the athletic department on college websites, he may find a place where prospective student-athletes, can register their interest. Once he submits this information, college coaches may contact him or his coach. Not every college website will have this option, but he ought to check it out.
Your son will need to investigate which colleges have soccer programs, where he might be eligible to play, and which actually offer athletic scholarships. Then he has to get the word out, through his high school coach or athletic office. He should create a resume outlining his specific athletic skills and accomplishments to send to all the colleges where he is applying. Some high school athletes send videotapes of themselves playing, or they arrange to play in tournaments where college coaches are present. Remember that the athletics department of a college does not make offers of admission -- only the admissions office can do that. But the two offices do talk to each other when each is aware of an applicant with a specific skill in sports.
Be aware that big sports programs with lots of money to give out are rare. The competition for sports scholarships is intense. Yes, there are highly-publicized stories about student-athletes who get great offers from famous schools with big revenue-producing teams, such as Division I football and basketball teams. But of all the high school students around the nation who are playing those sports, a very small number actually get scholarships. In addition, there is no such thing as a really free ride. College sport teams, especially in the big league schools, expect the student-athletes to perform -- a lot. If your son is recruited and he manages to win a scholarship, he will have to spend a good deal of time on the sports -- intense practices, many games, travel to other colleges for competitions, and so forth. This almost becomes a full-time job at some schools, and it's not easy to balance that kind of demanding schedule with maintaining academics.
Your son may prefer to go to a smaller or less famous college on his own academic strength, and play soccer on an intramural or club team. This is something that you and he, together, might want to explore with his soccer coach. Also consider the CUNY colleges - many have strong sports teams and the tuition is much lower than at private colleges and universities.
Q: I am on Facebook a lot with my friends, just to, like, stay in touch, share photos, nothing serious. Sometimes we use four-letter words in our conversation, it doesn't really mean anything. My mom saw my page and really got on my case for this. She says college admissions people read applicants' Facebook pages and judge them on that. I think she's over-reacting. First of all, those people probably don't have time to search for every applicant on Facebook. But also, most of the people using Facebook are teenagers and you have to expect that language. I mean, it's just for fun, no big deal, right?
A: Using Facebook to "stay in touch" is not wrong, of course, and it is fun. In fact, it's so much fun that thousands of people who are far beyond their teenage years use it. (Go ahead, look me up.) But it is wrong to assume that admissions people do not take the time to check applicants' entries on social networking sites. They do. They don't have the time to check every applicant; but they check many. Silly, frivolous things don't turn them off. But entries that reflect bigotry, racism, homophobia, intolerance, or a violent nature definitely set off alarms. The admissions people aren't trying to spy; they are trying to gather any additional information that could help them decide if a person should be admitted to their academic community.
How do admissions people obtain access to Facebook? It's pretty simple to be ‘friended' by someone who is already on Facebook. Or the admissions officer could have a friend or relative with access. Once on, you can enter any name and see if that person has a Facebook page. Many users choose to have ‘restricted access' -- so that only their name, photo, and school affiliation are given, along with pictures of their friends, whose basic information can also be accessed by clicking on their photos. If someone has not used the restricted access option on his or her profile, however, the information is visible. Also, the messages that people post to another user's "wall" can be read by anyone with access to that user's page. Yes, there are safety measures that you can select, but can you be completely sure that everything you write on Facebook and send to others won't be seen by someone you don't know?
What about those four-letter words? If, as you say, this language "doesn't really mean anything," then why use it? Four-letter words are not the exclusive property of teenagers, unfortunately; but being teenagers doesn't give you and your friends the right to use them and expect to be granted some sort of immunity. At best, admissions officers reading your words might think you sound unintelligent; at worst, they may think you crude. And, given the very competitive nature of admission at some places, do you want to give them any excuse at all for choosing another applicant over you?
The identity people project on the Internet reflects them, even if they think it's a big joke. People -- of all ages -- have said things, and posted photos, that they later regret. My own rule about e-mail is this: Never put anything in an e-mail that you wouldn't be willing for the whole world to see. You ought to apply this to Facebook and other social networks as well. Once something is on the Internet, it's out there, creating an impression about you. And if it's a negative impression, it can hurt you.
I agree with your mom. Choose your words carefully. (By the way, "like" is another four-letter word that is overused. It should be used only for 1) comparison and 2) to express a favorable feeling.)