BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Samantha Grossman wasn't always thrilled with the impression that emerged when people Googled her name.
"It wasn't anything too horrible," she said. "I just have a common name. There would be pictures, college partying pictures, that weren't of me, things I wouldn't want associated with me."
So before she graduated from Syracuse University last spring, the school provided her with a tool that allowed her to put her best Web foot forward. Now when people Google her, they go straight to a positive image — professional photo, cum laude degree and credentials — that she credits with helping her land a digital advertising job in New York.
"I wanted to make sure people would find the actual me and not these other people," she said.
Syracuse, Rochester and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore are among the universities that offer such online tools to their students free of charge, realizing ill-considered Web profiles of drunken frat parties, prank videos and worse can doom graduates to a lifetime of unemployment — even if the pages are somebody else's with the same name.
It's a growing trend based on studies showing that most employers Google prospective hires and nearly all of them won't bother to go past the first page of results. The online tools don't eliminate the embarrassing material; they just put the graduate's most flattering, professional profile front and center.
"These students have been comfortable with the intimate details of their lives on display since birth," said Lisa Severy, president-elect of the National Career Development Association and director of career services at the University of Colorado-Boulder, which does not offer the service.
"The first item on our 'five things to do before you graduate' list is 'clean up your online profile,'" she said. "We call it the grandma test — if you don't want her to see it, you probably don't want an employer to, either."
After initially supplying BrandYourself accounts to graduating seniors, Syracuse University this year struck a deal with the company — begun by a trio of alumni — to offer accounts to all of its undergraduate and graduate students and alumni at no additional charge. About 25,000 people have access to it so far.
"It's becoming more and more important for students to be aware of and able to manage their online presence, to be able to have strong, positive things come up on the Internet when someone seeks them out," said Mike Cahill, Syracuse's career services director.
Online reputation repair companies have been around for at least a couple of years, often charging hundreds or thousands of dollars a year to arrange for good results on search engine result pages. BrandYourself, which normally charges $10 a month for an account, launched two years ago as a less expensive, do-it-yourself alternative after co-founder Pete Kistler ran into a problem with his own name.