The college application process now includes managing your online reputation and your social media usage. There’s no better proof than what happened this past week when Harvard University rescinded acceptance offers from 10 students after they had been found to share offensive material online. GMW got some expert advice from Stephanie Klein Wassink, the founder and CEO of Wilton-based Winning Applications and AdmissionsCheckup.com.
Can your social media presence hurt your chances while applying to college? As we saw in the news this weekend, the answer is YES! Harvard University rescinded admission offers to a least 10 incoming freshmen due to inappropriate memes shared on a group Facebook page.
As a former admissions officer and longtime college consultant, I warn my students that they aren’t the only ones getting the “inside scoop” on the Internet. Colleges use the Internet and social media to check out prospective students, too. A recent survey of college admissions officers conducted by Kaplan Test Prep found that over one-third of schools polled are using social media to learn more about applicants.
Schools are watching what prospective students say and do online before, during, and after the college application process. Sometimes the information an admissions office learns can improve a student’s chances of admissions. Sometimes, it can ruin them.
So, how can students and parents prepare for this added layer of scrutiny? I’ve put together these tips to help you manage your social media reputation and avoid an admissions crisis.
Be Self-Aware from Day One
Your online reputation begins forming the second you or someone else begins sharing information about you via the Internet. When you are having fun with family or friends, it can be easy to slip up and even become inappropriate online. But once something is published on the world wide web, it is very difficult to take it back. Even deleted items can be recovered and come back to haunt you.
To avoid embarrassing Internet moments, it is important that you implement policies to manage your social media presence early. As you engage on social media, take steps to keep your social feeds and profile clean. Delete inappropriate posts or comments made by friends and block any groups or individuals who insist on posting offensive content. Also, don’t share content that includes illegal, offensive, or inappropriate material. Avoid posting or sharing anything that would give the impression that you advocate or engage in illegal activities. If it’s not suitable to share with your grandmother, then don’t post it or pass it on.
Search Yourself Before You Submit Your College Applications
Before you send your first college application, perform an audit of all your online activities. As they say, “Google your name.” Don’t just stop with Google, though. Conduct a thorough search of your name and nicknames using more than one search engine. Look for mentions of your name in images and posts on social media, too.
After you audit your online reputation, use the following checklist to help you clean up your online profile. Delete or remove any problematic content that you find. If the content is posted on a friend’s account, ask them to delete it or untag you.
Online Content to Delete, Remove or Disavow:
- Any drug or alcohol-related content. Even if you were not breaking the law, remove the content. Situations and settings can be easily misinterpreted, and it simply isn’t worth the risk.
- Images depicting you under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Ask your friends to remove or untag any similar images that they may have posted of you.
- Images that display rude or inappropriate gestures.
- Content that calls your judgment into question. (If you once posted an essay advocating free beer for school lunches, it’s time to take it down.)
- Groups that promote hate, bigotry, intolerance or illegal activities. Of course, you are free to associate with any groups that you wish. However, be aware that prospective colleges will judge you based on your associations.
- Also, it is a good idea to create a separate email account just to manage college admissions communications. Create a professional email handle that can serve you throughout college and beyond. Using a separate account can help you avoid any embarrassing “reply all” or “cc” situations.
- Admissions committees often receive anonymous tips about a student’s inappropriate “antics” on social media. Use of a social media alias does not protect you.
Represent Yourself Well
In summary, use discretion. If you aren’t passionate about a cause or idea, don’t post links or content that implies otherwise. Let your online presence represent the real you. Post pictures of yourself that show you smiling and engaged. Share your excitement about volunteer projects and travel. Manage your online reputation with as much care as you would any other part of the college application process.
Stephanie Klein Wassink is the founder of Wilton-based Winning Applications and AdmissionsCheckup.com. A former admissions officer and long-time college consultant, she graduated from Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Stephanie frequently writes for Money Magazine, Huffington Post and other blogs.