How Not to Get Kicked Out of College Before Your Child Even Gets to Campus

Ten aspiring Harvard students learned the hard way this past week that it is possible to get kicked out of college even before showing up to campus in the fall. How could this even happen?

A Facebook group for admitted students that started off with the usual banter of introductions and shared excitement of going to Harvard (who wouldn’t be excited) quickly devolved into posting racially charged and offensive memes. Admissions officer were not impressed and recognized how poorly it reflected upon the school and decided to part ways with the students even before they had picked out classes or bid for dorm rooms in the fall.

When a college admits your child to attend in the fall it is investing in your child to become a brand ambassador for it. When your student wins the Nobel Prize, becomes a partner in a law firm, or starts the next Snap Chat, her bio will proudly mention the college she attended. Thus, your child as a graduate becomes part of that college’s brand. Harvard drew the line in the sand—it did not want racial slurs and other offensive posts being associated with it, so it rescinded offers of admission to the students who created the posts.

We can use this very unfortunate event as a teaching opportunity for our kids. Social media, while connecting us in amazing ways to each other, also leaves an enormous paper trail for people to evaluate our thoughts, associations, and actions. A whopping 69% of admissions officers report looking at applicants’ social media content. Make sure this content shows that your child will propel the college forward and not reflect poorly on it.

There are no bright line rules of what is offensive and what is not. While some will say we know if it is offensive when we see it—that doesn’t really help before posting... I am happy to pass along the same wisdom I got when starting as an Analyst at a Wall Street Investment Bank when it comes to posting anything: the New York Times Test.

The New York Times Test is simple. All your child has to do before posting, is ask herself, would she want that post, like, comment posted to the front page of the New York Times and attributed to her? If the answer is no, do not post/like/etc. Liking something offensive or politically incorrect can have just as dire consequences as the original post. Things can be taken out of context and an inside joke can make a person look terrible especially as the headline on page one of the New York Times. An education should impart on our kids with the ability to navigate different and difficult situations. Encourage your child to adopt this flexible framework to stay on track and build a great personal brand for college and beyond.

Greg Kaplan is a college application strategist and author of Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting into Highly Selective Colleges. He focuses on empowering families to identify and develop their long term paths and stand out to earn admission in the college application process. Kaplan is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business and UC Irvine School of Law. See for more information.

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