For many high school seniors across the country, fall marks the beginning of what is likely the most torturous few months of their lives, namely college application season.
While it’s been a number of years since many of us have gone through the process, I’m sure we can’t help but cringe at the thought of hours spent preparing for the SAT, writing countless personal statements, and filling out multiple college applications. Students today, though, have more to worry about than simply getting their applications in on time. For aspiring collegians, their online presence can often sway college admissions boards to send a thin envelope or a thick one.
This predicament is not unlike what many adults experience in the workforce nowadays. While a more open online profile gives potential employers or colleges a better look into who you are as a person, there is always the risk of over-sharing.
According to US News & World Report, a growing number of admissions counselors is using social media channels to connect with prospective students, as well as using Facebook, Twitter, and personal blogs as a way to conduct “back-door” background checks on candidates. Citing Kaplan Test Prep’s survey of admissions officers at 395 colleges, 24% reported using a social media outlet to research an applicant. These social media checks are most often used for those the cusp of acceptance or for those who have deferred. So how can high school students make social media work for them and not against them?
The common-sense answer is for students to make those things “private” that they wouldn’t want admissions officers to see. This includes posts with offensive language or controversial opinions and party photos, as well as keeping personal information, such as addresses and phone numbers, out of the public eye. The rule of thumb is: if you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see it, then make it private. Most social networks have privacy settings, but some students (and working professionals, for that matter) fail to consider this issue carefully.
It’s also important to keep up an online presence and reputation that effectively portrays who the student is and what will make that student an asset to a prospective college or university. About.com’s College Admissions section recommends making all photos private, except those that show off your achievements, talents, travels, and family. This online brand will show college admissions officers a well-rounded and complimentary image of who you are, but will also keep other things, such as parties and personal views, private.
College admissions offices are also using social media far beyond a research tool. According to an infographic published by the NY Egotist in August 2012, 85% of colleges use Facebook to recruit students, while 66% of them use YouTube. Participating colleges use these profile and social media accounts to answer questions from prospective students, post applications deadlines, and post virtual campus tours for students who can’t make it for a campus visit. In fact, according to the infographic, 92% of admissions officers agree that social media is worth the investment. This is a huge switch from just 10 years ago, when colleges were only beginning to offer online application and e-payment options to applicants.
The fact of the matter is that we live in an increasingly digital world, and technology users must embrace both the good and the bad. Social media has become a great tool for connecting not only with other people, but also with brands, and in this case, with colleges. The key to a successful college application process (and life, for that matter) is to understand social media’s benefits and pitfalls, encouraging students to use them more responsibly.