The network, called HelloWilkes, connects upperclassmen to incoming freshmen so that they can get plugged into everything from student politics to dorm living. "The other kids were able to put my mind at ease that the dorm rooms are livable. Without the site, I would've been more nervous," says Andrew Seaman, 18, of Forest Hill, Pa.
Other universities are jumping on the private networking bandwagon. Dozen of universities have private networks which have profiles, bulletin boards and information areas.
"In a year or two virtually every college will have something like this," says Steve Jones, communications professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago. "This has become such a familiar mode of communication for teenagers; it's basically meeting them on their own turf. It makes it more comfortable to get information they might not otherwise get."
The schools get the word out by advertising the network on their school site as well as email, snail-mail invitations and orientations.
"We realized that in order to communicate truly effectively to students, we needed a medium that they are already accustomed to," says Mark Sikes, assistant dean of students at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
But there are drawbacks to having a school networking site. Basically the students are on their own because schools don't want to appear to be censoring or approving.
"If we exercise prior review or censorship, we're going to invite a whole new series of litigations," says Michael Bugeja, director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University in Ames.
But the new sites are being used by students and most schools are comfortable with the results.
"If you want the authenticity and true voice of the students, you have to be willing to take the bad with the good," Cheryl Brown, director of undergraduate admissions for Binghamton (N.Y.) University says. "On occasion, something sneaks in where we go, 'gulp.' And so far we have been pretty open about letting our students' comments stand as is."