How Your Social Media Presence Affects Your College Applications
If you’re a teenager today, chances are that you have an active presence on social media. Facebook is particularly popular among people of all age groups, but you may also use Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, or myriad other social networks to communicate with your friends and curate your public image.
In your experience with social media, you’ve probably already learned a few lessons about what to do and what not to do online, and much of this advice sounds like common sense. However, it’s always a good idea to check in with yourself and make sure that you’re keeping your college goals in mind as you build your online presence.
Read on for tips on how to manage your social media presence before and during the college application process in order to maintain your privacy, put your best face forward, and make effective use of the networking opportunities that social media offers.
Does my social media presence matter for college applications?
As a college-bound high school student, you’ve likely been told to be careful about what you post online due to the possibility that admissions offices are watching. This is a question that we’ve addressed previously on the CollegeVine blog in our post Do Colleges Check Your Facebook? How Much Due Diligence Colleges Actually Perform On Your App.
Briefly, it’s unlikely that colleges will go to the trouble of digging deep into your social media profile. However, you need to be aware that anything you do or post online can potentially come to the attention of college admissions officers, as well as hiring managers, scholarship committees, law enforcement, and other agencies that can impact your future.
Admissions offices may be more likely to look into your social media profile if they’re unsure about whether to accept you and want more details about your accomplishments. They might also search you out if they have reason to be uncertain or suspicious about the information that you’ve submitted.
Sometimes, colleges can be exposed to information you’ve posted on social media, as well as other information about you, without having to actively search for it. There have been cases in which other students, teachers, or community members have tipped a college off about a negative factor that the student did not mention on their application.
Given the size of today’s applicant pools, colleges simply don’t have the time to routinely check in on every single applicant’s online presence, but if they do choose to do so, there’s a lot that they can find out. A small misstep here or there likely won’t torpedo your application, but evidence of major misconduct, poor judgment, or untruthfulness can definitely affect the admission committee’s final decision.
Your social media profiles are part of your public persona, and it’s important that you pay attention to how that public persona is perceived by others. In general, you shouldn’t put too much weight on the judgment of others, but at the same time, the reality is that applying to college is in large part about presenting yourself in the best light to the people who are evaluating you.
Even if you’re conscientious about your privacy settings, there’s always a chance that the things you post online could become more public than you intended. The Internet is never really a private space, and you need to make sure that your overall social media presence reflects the best of what you have to offer.
Besides your own actions, you also need to think about those of others. Even if you behave appropriately online, others may not, so you need to keep an active role in shaping what people might think of you through your social media presence.
What Not to Do on Social Media
If you’re active on social media, you hopefully already know the basics of Internet etiquette and what kinds of things you should and should not post. However, it’s clear that many teenagers don’t make optimal choices about managing their social media profiles. Every day, the media covers stories of real-world consequences resulting from social media posts.
Below, you’ll find a list of some essential guidelines for keeping your social media profiles appropriate and positive as a college-bound high school student. Even if you are already conscientious about your online activity or these tips seem obvious to you, it’s wise to go over this list and double-check your approach.
- Don’t post, repost, or like materials that are widely considered offensive. If you feel the need to state a controversial opinion, do so maturely, and keep in mind that your stated opinions may affect how others view you.
- Never use social media to harm, harass, or bully others. Just don’t do it.
- Watch your language online. Colleges know that people swear sometimes, obviously, but excessive vulgarity will not reflect well upon you.
- Keep interpersonal conflicts off of social media as much as possible. A polite discussion of politics on your Facebook page, for example, is probably fine, but you need to keep debates or disagreements like these civil and respectful.
- Don’t post evidence of illegal or unethical behavior — for instance, underage alcohol use, cheating on a test, or vandalism. Posting this type of content can also expose you to negative consequences at school or under the law.
- Don’t reveal personal or confidential information on social media, both for your own safety and to demonstrate your integrity.
- Don’t do anything else online that shows questionable judgment or character, or that might make a college wary of inviting you into their community.
- Don’t be afraid to delete comments from others, untag photos, make posts private, or do whatever else you need to do to keep your social media profiles appropriate.
Of course, this list can’t cover every single possibility, and you’ll have to use your judgment when encountering social media quandaries. Given the impact it can have upon your future, it’s generally best to err on the side of caution and not post any questionable content online.
Maintaining Privacy Online
Social media websites generally have a variety of settings that you can use to restrict who can view your posts or profile information. While these protections are far from infallible, you need to actively investigate and control your privacy settings on any social media site or app you use.
When you create a social media account, you may be given privacy options upfront; otherwise, you can edit your privacy settings after the fact. On some social networks, you may be able to not only create general privacy settings, but also to restrict certain posts or pieces of information to certain people on your friends list.
The default privacy settings applied to your social media accounts may not be as private as you deem appropriate, so it’s always a good idea to review your settings and find out exactly what parts of your account you can control. If you choose to use social media, you need to take an active role in protecting your privacy and putting your best face forward.
Since a site’s privacy policies may change, you’ll want to check back regularly and make sure that your settings are appropriate. Facebook has a convenient “view as” feature, accessible from your profile page, which allows you to see exactly what your profile and wall look like from the public view or from the viewpoint of individual Facebook members.
Maintaining as much privacy as possible on social media not only limits what colleges or employers can find out about you, but also protects you personally. You probably learned about the concept of “stranger danger” a long time ago, and this advice applies to the Internet as well.
While interacting with new people online can be fun, oversharing on social media has the potential to threaten your safety, and you should be highly cautious about publicly posting personal or identifiable details — all of Facebook doesn’t need to know your home address, for instance.
It’s important to keep in mind that nothing you post on the Internet can really be considered private. Even robust privacy settings or deleting posts can’t prevent people from sharing the information you post, whether by taking screenshots, allowing others to look over their shoulder, or simply telling others what they saw. Low-tech snooping is still very much a possibility that you need to consider.
Making wise decisions about online privacy doesn’t mean that you need to be completely paranoid and distrustful of absolutely everyone. The bottom line is simply that it’s essential to be careful about what you post online, and aware of what information you’re making public.
Leveraging Social Media When Applying to College
Thus far in this post, we’ve focused upon the potentially negative aspects of using social media. However, social media is popular for a reason, and there are definitely benefits you can derive from a well-managed social media presence. Among other purposes, when used appropriately, it’s a helpful tool that you can use to learn more about colleges and allow colleges to learn more about you.
In this day and age, essentially all colleges have some kind of presence on social media. Be sure to search for your chosen colleges on whichever social networks you use. While this is not the best way to get in-depth information about the college, it can give you a sense of what life at that college is like, what that college prioritizes and is proud of, and what happens on campus over the course of the year.
A college’s social media content will depend on which social network is being used. For example, a college’s Instagram account will give you a quick visual impression of the campus, and may repost students’ pictures to give you a glimpse of everyday life there. A college’s LinkedIn page, on the other hand, is a good place to look for hard data about the college’s accomplishments and what alumni do after graduation.
For the most part, simply following a college on social media will have little impact on your chances of admission. Well-known colleges in particular have many followers on social media, including students, alumni, and members of the broader community, so this isn’t a particularly effective way to demonstrate your interest in a college for admissions purposes.
In recent years, however, some social networks have been introduced that are specifically aimed at college-bound high school students. Given the ubiquity of social media use among teenagers today, it makes sense that colleges seeking applicants would expand their efforts into this arena.
One example of this type of social network is ZeeMee, which we’ve described before in our post The Best Apps to Organize Your College Planning. ZeeMee is a website and mobile app that allows college applicants to connect with a college’s admissions officers, demonstrate interest in the college, and meet potential future classmates. Applicants can also create profiles and upload information to supplement their application materials.
ZeeMee is a relatively new platform, and not every college participates in it. Two prominent examples of colleges who use ZeeMee are Carnegie Mellon University and Washington University in St. Louis, both of which we’ve previously covered on the blog. If you find yourself applying to a school that uses ZeeMee or a similar social network, it’s a good idea to check out how this targeted form of social media may be beneficial to your application.
Another social network that can be helpful for college applicants is LinkedIn. While this network is usually associated with job hunting and career development for college students and adults, high school students can also use LinkedIn to build an online presence that’s positive, appropriate, and representative of their accomplishments, while potentially helping their efforts to network with people who can help them work toward their goals and ambitions.
Even if your work experience is relatively minimal, creating a LinkedIn profile will give you practice in crafting a resume and presenting yourself in a professional fashion. Volunteer and extracurricular leadership experiences can be part of your LinkedIn profile as well. Just remember that the atmosphere of LinkedIn is considerably more formal than that of social networks like Facebook, and your profile there will be held to a higher standard.
Social media is a reality of life in the 21st century, especially for tech-savvy young people. There’s no reason why you should avoid social media entirely, and it can even benefit you in significant ways when it comes to the college application process, as long as you take steps to present yourself appropriately and positively online and avoid the social media pitfalls that can tarnish your image or impact your ability to achieve goals.
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