Duane Hoffmann / msnbc.com
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msnbc.com
updated 8/28/2008 8:59:04 AM ET 2008-08-28T12:59:04

Filled with going-to-college angst, many incoming freshmen have spent plenty of time this summer soaking up campus life … on Facebook.

“It’s all about social networking and meeting people before the year starts,” says Antoinette Brou, who’s headed for the University of California, Los Angeles. “College is definitely scary.”

Probably even more so for Brou, who has only ventured as far as Los Angeles and Las Vegas from her hometown San Diego, where she graduated from a high school with 98 other seniors. Since joining Facebook in July, Brou already has 40-plus “friends” from UCLA before even moving to the campus. The majority are other Bruins whom she might meet for the first time this fall.

Rick Hansen, former president of the American College Counseling Association, says “Facebook orientation” has virtually turned mandatory for incoming freshmen since the social networking site opened to high schoolers in 2005.

While students are clueing one another in on everything from classes to long-distance relationships, what’s most helpful in preparing for campus life, he says, is getting to know potential college buddies.

“Being connected to the university and feeling like you belong, you tend to stay and engage in the university.”

‘It’s fun meeting new people!’
Some incoming freshmen are joining groups on Facebook specifically for their colleges’ graduating class of 2012.

While Facebook doesn’t track the number of these types of social networks on its site, Hansen says they likely exist for most colleges in the country. Facebook’s default privacy setting allows users in the same groups to view one another’s profiles. So new students can “Facestalk” — check out comments, pictures and personal details about one another before meeting at college.

Chris Cho initially wasn’t going to add any random peoplefrom Yale, where he’s headed, on Facebook. He’s psyched, but anxious, about meeting new people, and wants to ensure he makes the right friends at college.

After joining the “Yale 12” group, he received some complimentary comments about his profile picture from high school, when he performed in the play “Rent.” Pumped to meet people who share his interests, Cho soon warmed up to the idea of virtual college buddies — and now has more than 60 “friends” from the Ivy League school.

“It’s kinda stalkerish, but at the same time, who cares?” said the 18-year-old from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. “It’s fun meeting new people!”

Incoming freshmen are also joining discussions and groups connecting people with common interests.

Of dire importance to Elise Parsons, 18, who’s going to Loyola University Chicago: meeting people who share her passion for the HBO TV show “Flight of the Conchords,” starring a comedy duo from New Zealand.

To summon other fans, Parsons started a forum on the “Loyola Chicago 12” group on Facebook. Soon, freshmen were exchanging lines and laughs about the show, and they planned a “Flight of the Conchords” marathon in the dorms.

While Parsons only recalls one girl from the forum requesting her friendship on Facebook, she said it doesn’t really matter if her 60-plus virtual friends from Loyola turn into real-life college buddies.

“It makes me feel more comfortable having friends on Facebook who’re going to my school,” said Parsons, who started her first semester this week.

Some of the discussions even delve into other aspects of college life, like long-distance relationships, partying and fake IDs.

Hansen, who heads the counseling center at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., warns that while colleges don’t generally police Facebook, they have taken legal action against students when inappropriate comments made on the site were brought to their attention.

“Students tend to think, ‘I can ask about fake IDs because it’s like talking in the dorms,’ yet it isn’t,” he said.

Facebook may help break the ice
When incoming freshmen get their roommate assignments, the first thing most do is look them up on Facebook.

That’s exactly what Yale-bound Cho did. After exchanging private messages on Facebook with his roommate, he learned they’re “polar opposites.” Cho, an aspiring pre-medical student, loves the natural sciences, which his roommate, a politico, hates. “I’ll learn a lot from him,” Cho said.

Luckily, they share the same taste in mainstream artists like Britney Spears, Chris Brown and Rihanna. While the roommates’ messaging died down after a few days, Cho said he’s glad they already know each other through Facebook. “It’ll be easier to break the ice, rather than start from the beginning,” he said.

Hansen said he has witnessed students bringing up Facebook at Rockhurst University. “Oh, you’re the one on Facebook that ...” may kick off dialogue between new students, he said.

Freshmen have already met some students through orientation, and many added one another later on Facebook.

The fact that Brou, 18, was clueless about what she would be doing at UCLA’s three-day orientation only added to her anxiety about leaving home.

She scoured Facebook for clues, and found a forum where UCLA students asked and answered questions about the orientation. There, Brou learned that she would be putting together her schedule on the third day, so she knew to choose her classes ahead of time. Also, she learned she would need an Ethernet cable to have Internet access since there’s no Wi-Fi in the dorms where she will stay. “I felt more comfortable after reading all the answers.”

After getting to know some fellow freshmen better through Facebook, Brou is more excited and less nervous about going to UCLA.

She planned to hang out with some of her new college buddies before the semester started. Brou and her two roommates, whom will share a three-bedroom apartment with her in the fall, talked about doing lunch or dinner since they all live in Southern California. She also met a girl from San Diego at her orientation whom she got tighter with on Facebook.

“We planned on getting sushi,” said Brou.

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