Sometimes, colleges you’ve applied to will want to get a feeling for how you behave outside of your academic life, and will turn to your online presence for answers. This is a good thing! It means you have another opportunity to make a positive impact on your application. Social media is a great way to back up any claims about yourself, your interests, and your activities that you make in your application. However, social media can also be damaging to your application if your posts and tweets make admissions officers uneasy. According to research by Cornerstone Reputation, in the 2013-14 application year 40% of admissions officers and 83% of college sports coaches searched applicants online. Your online presence can have a big impact—either positive or negative.
All Social Media
Regardless of what social media platform you use, keep the following in mind as you tune up your accounts and profiles:
Do not post any pictures or text posts that you wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving on an admissions officer’s desk. Remove any posts/pictures you’re unsure about. See the list of suggestions at the end of this document to help you start cleaning up your profiles.
Unfriend and block people who post things that you don’t want showing up on your wall. This is very important, since while you can control what you post, you can’t always anticipate what your friends will post.
Avoid inflammatory topics like religion, drugs/alcohol, politics, and sex. An exception might be if you’re involved in an advocacy group that addresses these issues or an organization like JSA, in which case keep the posts you make as focused on your activity in the group as possible rather than the ideology or issue your group is involved in.
Like/friend/follow pages and profiles of people, companies, organizations, and interest groups that you mentioned in your application or that fall into line with the things you said you’re passionate about. If you claim that you’re a space fanatic and a school sees that you haven’t “liked” NASA there’s going to be a disconnect, and if you write an essay about playing Magic with your friends, you should at least follow Wizards of the Coast on Twitter!
Repost and retweet material from the pages and profiles that you liked/friended/followed. For example, you could occasionally retweet a post from the World Wildlife Fund twitter feed if you’re passionate about conservation efforts.
Post about the interesting things that you do outside of school: pictures of you doing things like rock climbing, attending a school musical, or participating in a club fundraiser help give you multidimensional, human aspects that help college admissions officers imagine you in their campus communities.
Your privacy settings can be found by clicking on the lock icon next to the notifications globe icon and clicking “see more settings.” The following are suggestions for a few of your privacy settings:
-Set your privacy settings that only friends can see your future posts. If you’ve liked and friended the pages and profiles of colleges you’ve applied to, they will be able to see your posts but you still maintain some privacy.
-Under “Privacy,” click “Use Activity Log” and review the posts and photos you’ve been tagged in and un-tag yourself when necessary. Oftentimes the most compromising material on your Facebook profile is posted by friends.
-Under “Timeline and Tagging,” make sure that you have selected to review posts your friends tag you in, and only allow friends to post on your timeline.
-Under “Timeline and Tagging,” turn on the setting that allows you to review tags that others add to your posts before they appear on Facebook.
Consider blocking or unfriending people that frequently post things to your timeline you don’t want there for the college admissions process.
Find the public pages and profiles of colleges you’re applying to and like/friend them.
When you’re all done, go to “Timeline and Tagging Settings” and click “View As” under “Who can see things on my timeline?” You’ll be able to look at your profile to the public. Oftentimes text posts will be invisible but profile pictures and banner pictures will be public, as well as any comments made on them.
-Click on the icon of your profile picture in the top right corner, then “Settings” > “Security and Privacy.” You can choose to toggle the “Protect My Tweets” box on if you want people to need pre-approval to view your tweets, however this is not recommended. Your Twitter profile, when properly maintained, can help you if college admissions officers can view your tweets.
-Follow the accounts of schools you’re applying to and public figures, organizations, and interest groups that you’re passionate about. For instance, if you expressed an interest in political science in your application, you should probably follow the @POTUS Twitter and those of your senators and congressmen.
-Occasionally retweet posts from the feeds you followed in the last step.
-Double check your posts and pictures as well as those you’ve been tagged in to make sure that they’re appropriate.
-If your Twitter handle is inappropriate or unprofessional, consider changing it.
-You don’t need to make your posts private, but if you do leave your Instagram profile public, you need to make sure that the pictures you have posted aren’t compromising in any way.
-Take a glance at your username and decide whether or not it might be inappropriate and needs to be changed. If so, go to “Options” > “Edit Profile” and change your username there.
-Follow the accounts of schools you’re applying to and public figures, organizations, and interest groups that you’re passionate about and like their posts.
If you haven’t already made a LinkedIn profile, it’s a great time to start building your profile. LinkedIn is a social media platform where you post information on your work experience, education, and skills and form an online professional network. Use information from your resume to fill out your LinkedIn profile as completely and accurately as you can. Think of it as needing to be of the caliber you’d expect from an application, and this includes choosing an appropriate and professional-looking profile picture.
Other Social Media (Pinterest, Snapchat, etc.)
Follow the spirit of the guidelines posted for other social media sites: you don’t need to make your profile completely private, but make sure that your posts and pictures aren’t compromising and that what you do post either enhances your application or paints you in a favorable light.
Social Media Cleanup Checklist
Some things are just never okay to have on your profile while you’re applying to college. The following list of not-acceptable posts is just a starting point for cleaning up your social media profiles:
-Swimsuit pictures – even if you think your picture is innocent or inoffensive, they could still give admissions officers the wrong idea
-Pictures with solo cups/containers that could contain alcohol – even if you’re just drinking soda out of a solo cup or dark glass bottle, a college admissions officer doesn’t know that and might assume you’re consuming alcohol
-Pictures/posts with/about alcohol or drug use
-Pictures of you in revealing clothing or positions that might be considered sexual or obscene
-Pictures of you making facial expressions or gestures that might be considered sexual or obscene
-Pictures of you at parties/posts about parties – even though they might not explicitly contain references to alcohol, parties and alcohol consumption often go hand in hand
-Posts that contain profanity
-Posts that contain reference to inflammatory topics like religion, sex, politics, and substances
-Posts in which you are complaining or being excessively negative
-Posts/pictures that show/imply you’ve been involved in illegal activity
-Posts where you attack or cut down others
-Posts containing hate speech, racism, sexism, or other socially inappropriate comments
-Posts by your friends that contain any of the above
Elise Cutts is a freshman at CalTech. A graduate of Sunset High School in Beaverton, Elise founded PEG (Physics and Engineering for Girls). She plans to become an astrophysicist and science fiction writer.