In the Admissions World, Your Online Persona Matters

Have you Googled yourself lately? I recently asked Mary, an 11th grade high school client whom I was assisting with college planning. “Actually – no – but I don’t have anything to worry about…” was her reply, “Only my friends can see what I post.” That said, prior to our next meeting, I assigned her the task of doing a Google search of herself.

Kaplan Test Prep recently surveyed 403 college admission officers, and found that 40% check social media pages of applicants, which is quadruple the number surveyed in 2008. If you are an independent school or college applicant, it is safe to assume that admission officers will likely be wanting to look beyond your essays, grades and scores, to your “digital footprint.” The Kaplan study notes that admission officers have a host of legitimate reasons for checking social media; in fact, it is often at the applicant’s invitation, to verify or observe extracurricular activities such as music, art or athletics. Verification of awards and checking discipline records are also motivations for searching an applicant’s online presence. Believe it or not, admission officers also report occasional attempts at sabotage, in which they will pursue an anonymous tip regarding an applicant’s less-than-flattering posts.

So, is avoiding social media at all costs a realistic solution? Not really, considering that according to a 2015 PEW survey, 94% of teens go online daily, with 71% visiting multiple media sites, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, among the most popular. Mary shared, “Snapchat is the fun one!” When Mary and I next met I asked her what she discovered online about herself. “On all of my accounts I have set privacy controls, but a bunch of my friends don’t, and I found links to me through their responses and re-tweets!”

What can you do to enhance your online presence?

Top Tips

  1. Google yourself. Check out Google’s Manage My Online Reputation
  2. Delete unflattering comments or images of yourself
  3. Employ the grandmother test! In other words, if you are not sure about a post, ask yourself, “Would I be comfortable with grandma seeing this?”
  4. Use common sense! Not unlike most things in life, when it comes to social media, using good common sense and trusting your instincts will serve you best.

In conclusion, use social media to your advantage, as it can be your best friend or worst enemy when it comes to independent school and college admission. Does this mean abstaining from all social media? No. Nor does it mean that you should turn your social media into a virtual resume. Unfortunately, many adult social media “experts” offer simplistic suggestions. “Post only wholesome pictures of your family and you doing things that you highlight in the activities section of your applications.” This advice reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of why teens are attracted to social media in the first place. Of course if you happen to be a super wholesome person who loves to take and post photos of yourself participating in the activities that you love, then go for it! However, your social media does not need to be viewed as a vehicle for admission.

Strive to strike a healthy balance and avoid posting snarky comments directed at peers, or images of yourself holding a cup or anything that smolders. While such photos may make you feel connected to your friends, admission officers regularly share that such posts contribute to a growing number of rejections among applicants. Keep in mind, just because you delete it doesn’t mean that it disappears. When it comes to social media, use good judgment! As Mary put it, “None of this really comes as a big surprise. After all, colleges are just trying to get to know the real me!”

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