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Could LinkedIn give students an 'in' with college admissions?

With a lowered age requirement, LinkedIn hopes to welcome more teens. Its university pages aim to provide prospective students with info on how they're connected to a school and suggestions on how to achieve career goals.

If it's been awhile since you applied to college, here's a bit of news to make you feel your age: it's not just about SAT scores, transcripts, and personal essays these days.

Social networking plays a role, too.

Starting this college admissions season, teens can use the professional networking site LinkedIn in two ways: to research universities and to create profiles highlighting accomplishments that would otherwise be hard to include in a traditional application. LinkedIn made these features possible by lowering the age requirement for users to 14 in the United States and by launching what it calls university pages.

University pages offer basic stats about a college, but also leverage the power of a user's LinkedIn network. When you a view a page you can instantly see how you're connected to the university. Perhaps you know alumni who graduated in a subject in which you're also interested. "People have said I want to be an astronaut when I grow up and there was never a way to see that footprint or that pathway to get into becoming an astronaut," said John Hill, LinkedIn's higher education evangelist. "We give you that through data and that becomes aspirational."

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Students may not see the value in creating a profile if they've only worked at a local frozen yogurt shop, but there are ways to beef up your profile. "It's totally fine to have work experience that may not relate to what you want to be when you grow up," Hill said. He also urges students to "connect to groups, connect to companies that you're interested in learning more [about to] make your network a little bit more robust."

It seems like a valuable resource for teens, but I wondered whether LinkedIn could offer any reassurances for parents. Any time a child logs on to a social network, parents are likely to raise an eyebrow, even when it's a site geared toward professionals. LinkedIn told CNET that anytime a minor creates an account, they automatically have the highest level of privacy settings -- though these settings can be changed later by the user.

If all this has you panicked that colleges are scouring your Twitter feed and Facebook profile, don't be. With thousands of applicants, most colleges don't have time, unless given reason. Jeff Schiffman, senior associate director of admissions for Tulane University, said that schools often find out when students have misused social media thanks to a standard application question that asks if they've ever been suspended or expelled.

"In most cases if student has had some sort of infraction from social media, that's where we're going to see it," Schiffman said. "We have a zero tolerance policy regarding anything like cyberbullying, anything regarding [a] student really being malicious with use of social media."