If you’re applying to college, you’re probably familiar with cautionary tales of how students’ admissions chances can be impacted by their social media posts. Whether it’s the story of Harvard rescinding acceptances over offensive messages in a Facebook group, or just stats on the percentage of admissions officers (35%) who look at applicants’ social media profiles, college bound students know that they need to tread lightly online. But with 71% of teens using more than one social media site, instilling a fear of social media is not only impractical, it’s misleading. In fact, social media can be a positive element to the college admissions process, and students should approach it as such!
It’s important for students to treat social media the same way they do college applications – with cautious optimism and realistic expectations. Social media can be a fun and positive extension of who you are in your college applications. It can also cause trouble if you’re not careful. Students today are more teach-savvy than ever before, so they can set appropriate and smart privacy settings to protect themselves from prying eyes, but if you’re on social media then someone is seeing your posts. So be smart about how you behave online with these tips:
Don’t be afraid to post online. Using social media to highlight your interests and accomplishments can shine a positive light on something that is often seen so negatively when applying to college. Post videos of recitals, links to articles you’ve written, photos of your most recent fundraising event, or just some commentary on topics that mean a lot to you. Show off the things that matter to you and have shaped your interests and goals.
Get to Know Colleges
You’re not the only one online – colleges are, too. Colleges are looking to show off just as much as you are, with information on academics, events, activities, and more on every social media channel available. Follow colleges on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Platforms like Snapchat allow students to get a “live” look at life at a particular college or university. Instagram is good for getting a feel of the college’s campus and events, while Facebook and Twitter are great for getting information on what’s happening on campus, application updates, and more. Seek out colleges online in order to paint a more comprehensive picture of the school’s environment and whether or not it’s a good fit for you.
Yes, I said to “show off” earlier, but it’s important not to show everything. Because students have spent so much of their lives online, many of them have been posting long before they really developed a filter or learned certain social cues or discretion. Don’t post “TMI” (too much information.) Things like emotional breakups, details about arguments with friends or parents, information about sexual relationships, photos of underage drinking, chronicles of intense family problems, or other information that’s better discussed with an adult or professional. Discretion signals a certain amount of maturity, and TMI on social media (or in application essays) can take away from the positives that you’re highlighting elsewhere.
Be Mindful of Others
Online bullying and harassment is a big problem these days, especially for teenagers. Students need to be mindful of how they treat others online, and how their behavior towards others on social media can reflect upon their character. It’s also important to understand how sensitive the college application process can be for some students. If friends are posting about where they’re applying or where they did or didn’t get accepted, avoid being negative. Treat others the way you would want to be treated – with respect and understanding – when interacting with friends or in college-focused chats or groups online.
The “Future” Test
I’ve talked a lot about the “grandma test” in the past – if you wouldn’t want your grandma to see it then don’t post it! Another way to frame it would be to consider what you wouldn’t want your future self – or your future employer – to see. Kids are living most of their lives online, compared to adults who are still fairly new to social media and avoided having their most developmental and influential years of their lives documented online for all to see. Social media allows students to live in the moment – and for that moment to live forever. What may seem like a harmless post today might be extremely embarrassing or damaging a year or two from now. When deciding what to post, don’t think about your grandma or a college admissions counselor – think about you! Ask yourself: Could this haunt me even past my college admissions journey?
In the end, social media is here to stay. So college bound students, and their parents, need to embrace the positive impact that smart online behavior can have on the college search and application process. Don’t be afraid to post! And when you do, remember that your audience may be a lot bigger than you expect.