Twitter Wars and Instagram Shade: What it Means for the College Admissions Process

In an era of Twitter wars, Instagram shade, information leaks, and fact checking, the need to effectively manage an applicant’s social media presence has become critical to the college admissions process. What was once confined to the tabloids in the grocery store checkout aisle is now part of the mainstream conversation, and this means we need to make sure our children stay above the fray.

A whopping 69% of college admissions officers responded in a recent survey that they look at students’ social media profiles and presences as part of their application review. Said differently, expect an admissions officer to try to find your child online.

Invasive? Sure. How dare they! Not so fast. Admissions officers are tasked with selecting the incoming class at their colleges and universities. They must find the next generation of students that will propel their schools forward—in the classroom, in the community, and elsewhere. Grades and test scores may measure a student’s understanding of chemistry or Calculus, but it is hard to glean from them whether an applicant will add to a college’s community.

Social media on the other hand, sheds light into the type of person an applicant is. Unfortunately, this is one those situations where there is only downside. Admissions officers are naturally optimistic. They review an application looking for ways that an applicant can add value to a college campus and admit students based on that value they would bring to campus. A social media presence that highlights the good attributes of a student only reinforces what an admissions officer would expect to find.

An online presence that demonstrates poor judgment, intolerance, or close-mindedness, however, can derail an otherwise competitive application. Colleges view themselves as a force of good in their communities tasked with educating not just their students, but contributing to the communities they are located in. A post that suggests your child cannot contribute to the mission of contributing to the community in a positive way, may lead admissions officers to prefer another applicant that they think can. With so many applicants applying to the top colleges in this country, one slip up is all it takes for an application to fall relative to other applications.

Students and parents alike need to be proactive in managing social media presences. First, every account an applicant has should be set to private. Social media is for friends and family, not for a stranger sitting in an ivory tower 3,000 miles away. Second, on a regular basis (i.e. monthly) review your child’s accounts. Make sure that any content on the web that your child created does not show your child in a negative light. If it does, it needs to be removed immediately. The same applies to any content that may be tagged to your child. The goal here is for your child to not be guilty by association. Examples of this could be posts that your child has liked. Even if your child is not the one displaying questionable judgment in the post, by endorsing a controversial opinion or activity, your child runs the risk of being associated with something that an admissions officer could attribute to them.

Regardless of how one feels about privacy in the social media age, we must ensure that our children protect their careers from potential pitfalls. Focusing on the importance of maintaining a neutral or positive online presence is a teaching opportunity for our children that underscores the importance of building a cohesive and strong personal brand for long-term success.

Greg Kaplan is a college application strategist, author of Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting into Highly Selective Colleges, and the founder of Soaring Eagle College Consulting. Greg focuses on empowering families to develop their children’s high value skills, interests, and passions and market the value they would bring to colleges. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business and UC Irvine School of Law, where he received close to a full tuition scholarship.

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