Social media is ubiquitous and can have a powerful impact, even in college admissions.
Sometimes subtle, sometimes painful, ALWAYS permanent, navigating the cyber world can be tricky. With the global world literally at your fingertips, it can be more risky than students realize. Social networks of course offer positive possibilities, from connecting and reconnecting people, to invoking positive change, to raising money for a great cause… to (screeeeeech) KNOCKING YOU OUT of the ADMIT pile at top colleges and universities??? Say what??
Building a social media presence nowadays is as simple as click, click, BOOM, done! And in college admissions your social media presence can sometimes impact your application. This isn’t to say that admissions officers comb the web seeking ‘dirty laundry’ on every applicant. The application numbers are simply too vast for this but if any red flags are raised (even the slightest) admissions offices will fully vet a student, including their social networking sites.
We field many questions from students and parents involving this topic and we wanted to share some of our insights to help you build a positive social media presence without falling prey to the sensationalizing nature of social networking.
General Rule(s) of Thumb
What is the best advice for students regarding cleaning up social media for admissions officers?
- Exercise good common sense!
- “Grandparent-Proof” ALL of your social media accounts. If your grandmother would raise an eyebrow at a post or photo you have up, then take it down or ensure it’s not viewable by the public. Better safe than sorry! Keep in mind, even those that date back years can be found on the web so be diligent on what you allow on your networking pages.
- Clean up your ‘friends’ list: If someone can’t respect your wishes for a positive page then it’s either time to ‘un-friend’ or ‘hide’ them. Don’t accept a friend request from someone that looks sketchy.
- Make sure messages you think are private are indeed marked as such. Check your privacy settings, but also make it a habit not to post something you wouldn’t want forwarded. It will be.
- Check yourself and your words. We worked with a student who wrote that she was so mad at a certain teacher she wanted to “kill her.” Of course she didn’t mean this literally. BUT she was suspended from school for threatening a teacher. College applicants expressly ask if you’ve had disciplinary action. Don’t let social media be the reason you have to check off “yes.”
- Tell the truth. If you lie to colleges about awards or work experience and they head over to the internet to validate, you’d better be telling the truth. Same with sports achievements. It’s pretty easy to figure out if you really are the fastest runner in Dallas.
We often urge students to Google themselves and check PeekYou.com on their names. THEN have a parent or relative do the same. What comes up that you don’t want a college admissions officer to see?
What are the biggest social media issues you see on your student’s accounts?
- Proper Security Settings: Check your security and posting settings on each of your accounts. Be sure to check the box to ensure you approve being tagged in any photos others post on their pages and to approve any photos that post to your page(s).
- Inappropriate Photos: Remember those Grandparents! One student reposted a photo that was taken at a party and completely inappropriate. Her high school saw the post and, yup, she was disciplined along with all the others who had posted it.
- Writing Without Thinking: Writing something, even in a group chat, that’s taken the wrong way is never good. Never trash your high school or your athletic team in a post. Why be negative? Never call in sick to school then post a photo of you at the beach. Duh. And, don’t tweet from a college campus using the college’s hashtag and brag about the ‘insane parties’ you went to while on a campus visit. Just don’t.
- Cyber Bullying: It’s illegal and it’s taken hurtful high school behavior into viral hell. Do not even begin down that road. That means posts on blogs, Facebook, or any online space can’t be places where you post unkind things about others. That’s cyber bullying. Your high school probably has a specific policy defining this behavior, but we are here to tell you from seeing the consequences, vent your anger about someone to your parents or a trusted friend NOT online.
- Dumb Mistakes and Over Sharing: Don’t post your recent transcript complete with your SS# and address. We get that you might be excited to have all As, but this puts you at risk. Also, don’t post from your school email address something you wouldn’t want your school to see. Remember big brother really is watching and in the case of your school, they often have systems that track log ins and IP addresses.
Why Do Colleges Care?
Why do college admissions offices care about student’s personal networking sites?
Because they want to admit students who are positive, have strong character and will add to the community in a positive way. They don’t want anyone who is violent or inappropriate or has a problem with drugs or alcohol. Pretty simple!
As interest in social media continues to grow, so too does the possibility that a photo or post might be misinterpreted or seen by someone you wish hadn’t. We want all of the students we work with to be aware of the power of social media to influence their college admissions results. Thoughtless mistakes on a social networking site could bring unfortunate results—we’ve seen it happen multiple times in past years with qualified seniors whose online social media content led to disciplinary action that resulted in negative college admissions consequences and heartbreak.
Think about it, when interviewing for a new job you present your best self, both in-person and on-paper. You polish and buff until you sparkle, all in an effort to promote yourself as a respectable and trustworthy prospective employee. Employers are concerned with what you are going to bring to their table and how you present is important. Admissions officers are in the same boat – they want to see what potential you bring to their campus, what possibilities you might bring THEM. Therefore, in college admissions it’s important to present your best self, both in-person and online.
Don’t Allow Social Networking to Decrease Your College Admissions Odds
Do you think it’s fair for colleges to check student’s social media accounts?
As we often say to parents and students, there is little about college admissions that is fair, and it’s important to reflect on what you relay to colleges for this reason. And, even if admissions officers don’t check your social media your own high school may and that will impact the information they and you report to colleges. Recruited athletes face the possibility, quite often, that coaches will be reviewing their social media. Again, they want a team that they can work with on and off the fields.
Have you had to do “damage control” on a student’s social media accounts?
We don’t do “damage control” on our students’ social media accounts, but we DO perform a check to try and help out. Some students assume that a college admissions officer won’t go back a few years when looking at photos, or won’t care if an email address is unprofessional, or won’t take the time to Google a student’s name. They might.
Our point is always, why take the risk? It’s a well-known fact that many colleges ARE taking a look at students’ social media to not only learn more about the student, but also to gauge the student’s interest in a college. The key is to build a social media presence that highlights the positive and steers away from the negative. While you sometimes feel like a tightrope walker, the fine line is traversable.