Many parents already keep a close eye on their kids’ social media activity. There are simply too many safety and privacy concerns to ignore. However, once students get to high school, monitoring social media accounts gets harder. Children are more tech-savvy and far less likely to share their online lives with their families.
That’s a problem, because once kids get to high school the stakes are much higher. Students turn their attention to college applications, and they don’t realize their social media posts can come back to haunt them.
Certainly, college admissions officers can access social media pages, but do they? Here’s what you need to know.
What College Admissions Officers Look For
The college experience is more than going to class. It’s becoming part of a community. Like most communities, educational institutions want members of their communities to participate in a positive, inclusive manner that is welcoming to all.
What makes college communities different from neighborhoods, public schools, and other groups is that colleges have the ability to choose their members. The admissions process puts heavy emphasis on academics, but college admissions officers also evaluate character when deciding who to accept as students.
A majority of college admissions officers rely on application materials, including personal essays, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular activities, but there is a strong minority who delve into social media profiles. In 2015, 40 percent of college admissions officers said reviewing kids’ social media was a standard part of evaluating candidates. That figure dropped to just 25 percent in 2018, but it is on the rise again. Approximately 36 percent of those who responded to a Kaplan Test Prep survey said they looked at applicants’ social media profiles in 2019.
Certainly, college admissions officers don’t have time to thoroughly examine every candidate’s online presence. In most cases, they use this method to gather additional detail when a promising application doesn’t have quite enough information. However, of the group that does check social media profiles, 19 percent indicated it’s a regular part of their routine.
Since there is no way of knowing which colleges consider social media, students who plan to take the next step in their education should assume that all of their online activity is under scrutiny.
Creating a Positive Online Presence
It is possible to make social media work for applicants in the college admissions process, but before getting to that, begin with a general cleanup. College admissions officers have been known to reject candidates and rescind acceptances when they discover social media posts that violate the school’s Code of Conduct.
First, double- and triple-check that there are no comments, jokes, or memes that have biased undertones or support discrimination—and that includes discrimination based on gender, race, national origin, and sexual orientation. Next, remove anything that shows illegal activity, such as underage use of alcohol or drug misuse. Finally, delete posts that could be perceived as supporting or threatening violent or aggressive behavior. Any of these are considered red flags, and they can adversely impact the admissions process.
Once the red flag posts have been addressed, consider building an online presence that highlights the unique skills and abilities that applicants will bring to campus. Create a professional profile on LinkedIn and other student networking apps, start a blog, or contribute posts to a niche online group with shared passions. These types of links can be included in a college application to illustrate the positive impact students will have when they become part of the campus community.
Evaluating Social Media Accounts
Privacy settings can help keep sensitive posts secure, but these tools aren’t foolproof. It is critical for students to operate under the assumption that anything they do online will be viewed by college admission officers—and later by prospective employers. Staying safe on the internet is the top priority, but that is closely followed by creating an online footprint that will help—not hinder—the achievement of educational and career goals.