…and your Instagram captions and your Facebook posts and the Tumblr you abandoned three years ago. Social media is a powerful platform to present your unique personality and interests to colleges, coaches, and other gatekeepers for jobs and internships. What does your online presence tell that audience about you?
The internet is a public place, even inside a “private” social media group. Before you post your dankest meme, take a moment to consider what it might look like to someone outside your online tribe. In recent years, students have faced disciplinary consequences for using offensive language and images in private group chats—including having admissions decisions reversed.
Social Media Tips for College Applicants
Delete your account. (Just kidding, but you might want to clean it up following the steps below.)
1. Watch the name
Whether it’s your email address or your Twitter handle, your username is your key identifier—keep it simple and professional.
2. Check your privacy settings
Monitor your privacy settings so that you know who can look you up, see your wall, tag you in pictures, and more. (There are a lot of options, so make sure you’re thorough.) Even if you’re over Facebook, take a look at groups you might have joined way back when. Most are probably fine, but some may not give the best impression. A few clicks can remove them.
3. Curate your online photo libraries
A picture is worth a thousand words. So make sure you’re okay with what those words might be! Maybe “you had to be there,” but remember that the college admissions staff wasn’t. While you’re at it, check what photos your friends have tagged you in. Any sort of illegal or objectionable behavior deserves a delete!
4. Google yourself
Search for your name on Google—you might be surprised what shows up on the first few pages. Maybe you’ve made a comment on a blog that you’d rather not have show up, or a friend has tagged you in an unflattering photo. While you can’t always delete the results, you can be proactive about what you post online. (For tips on how to do this, read on!)
Ways to Shine Online
Keep in mind, social media can also help you. Here are four ways to give yourself an admissions boost online.
1. Join LinkedIn
Joining this professional network demonstrates you’re serious about your future. Make a point to connect with teachers, employers, your parents’ friends and colleagues, and others who know you. You could even direct admissions teams to your LinkedIn profile by including the address in your application.
2. Participate in online groups related to colleges that interest you
Follow the Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages of your target schools. This is a great way to learn more about prospective colleges. Plus, by commenting and asking great questions you can raise your name recognition and improve your digital footprint.
3. Keep it positive
Post your successes on your social media sites just in case someone from admissions takes a peek. Link to the editorial you’ve written for your school paper, upload a video of your cello recital, or post a photo of your soccer team after a big win. Share articles that underscore your interest in history or your love of modern dance.
4. Find out if your prospective colleges use ZeeMee
ZeeMee is a new social media platform geared toward college admissions. College-bound students can set up a free profile and then upload photos and videos, list their study interests, or expound on a favorite extracurricular activity. Colleges that partner with ZeeMee provide a place to include your profile link on their applications.
5. Not happy with your Google results? Change the story.
If you’re not thrilled with what shows up about you online, there are ways to fix it. Social media accounts are usually some of the top returns, so cleaning up those profiles goes a long way. School activity is likely to show high up as well from writing an article for the school paper to participating in an extracurricular activity or club that’s on the high school website. Try starting your own foodie blog or commenting on online news stories from your local paper or even the New York Times to boost your online presence. Just make sure your comments are positive.
The bottom line is that social media is yet another opportunity to show college who you really are beyond grades and test scores. While colleges may not officially evaluate your Twitter feed as part of the decision process, you have to assume that a curious admissions officer could take a look.