Unaccepted By Harvard: A Cautionary Tale

After being admitted to Harvard last spring, Parkland shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv suddenly saw his acceptance revoked after racist social media posts that he had written in 2017 surfaced last month.

Regardless of what you think of Kyle’s politics and whether or not you believe that young people may do and say things that, as they mature, no longer reflect who they are, colleges reserve the right to rescind the offer of admission for any action that calls into question a student’s academic or personal integrity. Period, end of story. In this matter, colleges hold all the cards. Actions that are found to be unethical, offensive, intolerant, and counter to a university’s values will not be tolerated, whether you are a pre-frosh or a current student. When this information comes to light before admissions decisions are finalized, it’s highly unlikely that the student would even be offered admission in the first place. If it comes to light after a student has been admitted, the college will thoroughly investigate and reserves the right to rescind its offer of admission. If information surfaces after a student has already matriculated, the student will most likely be expelled from the university and lose all credits that they may have accumulated.

So, let Kyle’s story be a cautionary tale. Your social media posts are discoverable and, should they contain material that some may find offensive, you might soon find yourself in a situation similar to Kyle’s and ‘unadmitted’ from your dream school. We always remind our students never to post anything they wouldn’t want their grandmother to read.  Even things posted in jest or as seemingly safe as a Google document can be read by others.

DO ADMISSIONS OFFICERS CHECK APPLICANTS’ SOCIAL MEDIA?

A story in Inside Higher Ed last year looked at survey data to understand whether or not admissions leaders felt it was appropriate to check the social media profiles of their applicants and if so, how many are actually taking the time to view them.  What they found was that more than two-thirds of admissions leaders said it was “fair game” for them to review applicants’ social media profiles on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as part of their admissions review. But, the survey also found that the reality of a time-crunched admissions review process meant that less than one-third of admissions staff actually have time to do so. Additionally, the survey posited that more students use private social networks and use fake accounts that only friends are aware of and are harder to trace back to the owner. That said, we know of a number of cases where other students, competitive about college admissions, turned over inappropriate posts or emails to admissions offices.

Before you decide that the odds are ‘good’ that someone won’t take a look at your old posts and tweets, remember that others are looking as well—even if you mark it as ‘private’.

SOCIAL MEDIA 101 FROM TOP TIER

Summer is a great time to do a little housekeeping on your various social media sites. Here are our top housekeeping tips:

  1. Don’t post intolerant, racist, or otherwise offensive stuff on any of your sites, regardless of your political point of view. It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyways. Teenage brains may be immature but you know enough now to know when material is offensive and crosses a line.
  2. Google yourself and see what comes up. Do you like what you see? Remember, this is probably the approach that busy admissions officers will take if they are curious to see what you put out there.
  3. Sanitize your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites. As a rule of thumb, if your grandmother would be offended, take it off your site right now.
  4. Use social media to help tell your distinctive story. Blog about issues you care deeply about, interesting scientific discoveries, vexing math puzzles, and current events. Post pictures of your favorite works of art, the books you’ve read this summer, your dreams and aspirations, the view from your bedroom window, and yes, the family pet.
  5. Never give anyone your log in to the Common App, Naviance, Google Docs, etc.

You digital natives know that there’s a right and a wrong way to use social media. Be smart and think before you tweet or post!

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