It's not just an old wives' tale - over a third of college admissions officers say they review the social media pages of applicants, according to a survey by Kaplan Test Prep. It makes sense since doing so provides them with a unique opportunity to learn about the "real" student. The information you share and the photos you post can reveal a lot about you and can either work in your favor or against you.
That's why in addition to your stellar college essay, your GPA, and those letters of recommendation, you should aim to have a positive digital footprint. In fact, it's in your best interest to make sure all of your social media profiles and online activity is appropriate. This illustrates that you have what it takes to be a responsible college student.
Here are some tips to help you make a good digital impression with college admissions officers.
Modesty and decency
Your photos do create an impression of you, so don't make it a negative one. The way you're dressed, your body language, or even too many images of you holding a red plastic cup can send the wrong message. The same goes for foul or offensive language used in comments.
Tip: On Facebook, leverage your privacy settings to prevent people from tagging you in photos without your permission. That ensures that nothing unflattering is posted. And, whether it's Twitter, Pinterest, or any other platform, even if you're reposting a meme, put some thought into how it will be perceived.
Your application might suggest that your participation in team sports, being on the debate team, or learning robotics is important to you. Does your online persona also convey that level of passion?
Tip: Join groups on Facebook related to your academic and extracurricular interests. Post photos with your team or of a school activity you helped run on Instagram; post videos on YouTube showing the progress of your science club's project. You never know what little thing might help set you apart from other applicants.
Everyone uses the occasional acronym, but making a habit of using awful grammar and spelling in a public forum will have admissions officers second guessing if you wrote that stellar admissions essay.
Tip: Try to intersperse some thought-provoking posts in between more lighthearted ones. For instance, you could share articles and videos related to your academic interests and your intended field of study.
If you don't have anything nice to say, then keep it off-line. Healthy debate is also okay, as long as it's done with respect to the other party.
Tip: When you leave comments on a blog post, article or even someone else's social media profile, there is always the chance that it can resurface when someone searches your name online. Comment with care.
The truth about online privacy
What you think is a private joke between you and your friends can be perceived a lot differently in the public forum that is the Internet. Just because you delete something doesn't mean it's gone forever — just ask those celebrities who quickly take down a foolish tweet only to find out that someone took a screenshot. Moments later it goes viral.
Going through the privacy settings on all of your social accounts is a good start toward making your information less searchable. For instance, on Facebook, you can decide exactly who can see and who can share something you post. Again, that doesn't mean you should go ahead and post something offensive because only a select few will see it. Anything online can inevitably be found.
One way to keep yourself in check is to put everything that you're about to post through the "grandma" test. In other words ask yourself, is this something that I'd be uncomfortable with my grandmother seeing? If so, don't post it.
Make social media work for you
Social media is a big part of our lives. As you approach the college admissions process, it can become the basis of your "personal brand." Some prospective colleges and future employers want to see evidence that you're using social media as a powerful tool to learn, collaborate and express yourself. You can still use it for fun and to be social, too, as long as there's a balance.
A smart use of social networking is to make connections with your prospective colleges by following them on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other platforms. It's a great way to connect with current students, ask questions, and get an overall feel for each school. Some colleges even have dedicated accounts or online events (like Twitter chats and Google Hangouts) for incoming students.
Getting into good social media habits isn't just to ensure that college admissions officers won't find anything negative about you online — it will help you down the road as well. The majority of colleges have social media policies for their enrolled students, as do most companies for their employees. A negative social media presence could warrant consequences â€” from academic probation to not getting job offers.
Social media is powerful, but the nature of that power depends on its user. If you wield it wisely, social networking can help you achieve your college admissions goals and set you up for future success.