Applying To College? Clean Up Your Social Media Act
Don’t let a compromising photo or unfortunate post get your application rejected
Attention, college applicants: The rules of the game have changed. You don’t just need to look good on paper — you need to look good online.
In a survey of college admissions officers at 400 colleges and universities nationwide last year, Kaplan Test Prep found that more than a quarter of them used Google and Facebook to size up applicants. And 35 percent said they found damaging information, including “vulgarities in blogs, alcohol consumption in photos, things that made them ‘wonder’ and ‘illegal activities.’”
Don’t assume the people who count are peeking only at Facebook and blogs. “They can check Instagram and Tumblr accounts and look at Tweets and Vine posts as well,” says Bruce Mendelsohn, who’s been an admissions advisor and social media expert at M.I.T., Nichols College, Baltimore Hebrew University and other schools.
Worried about what college admissions officers will see if they scope you out in cyberspace? Take these steps to clean up your online presence.
- Delete questionable photos. Seems obvious, but pictures of you drinking, doing bong hits, showing too much skin or taking part in any other type of wayward behavior should come down. (Save them for the tell-all autobiography you plan to write after you’ve graduated and created the next Google.)
- Make sure the pictures you leave up sync with who you say you are. “If you describe yourself as adventurous in your application, but all the photos of you online show you reading on the sofa, it’s a red flag for college admissions officers,” says Mendelsohn. “We wonder what else you’ve said that isn’t quite true.” Update your Facebook photos to match up with the person you describe yourself as on your application or make a Vine of yourself jumping off the high-dive or playing the cello.
- Ask friends to remove unflattering tags on Facebook. “Even if you haven’t posted a picture directly onto your page, if you’re tagged in a friend’s photo, admissions officers can see it,” explains Mendelsohn.
- Bury the bad stuff. You can’t always get rid of something unflattering about yourself on the Web. But you can push it further down in search results by posting a lot of positive stuff. “Admissions officers usually don’t look beyond the third page of Google results,” says Mendelsohn, so a couple of dozen positive posts will likely get negative information off the radar. A good way to start: Write for your school and town newspapers and websites. They’re often starved for content and search engines will pick up your byline. Plus they’ll help you come off as someone who’s interested and involved in the community.
- Reach out to the Twitterati. Tweet the articles you write to people you think might like them. Tweets can pop up in online searches and further crowd out old items.
- Toot your own horn. Won a speech competition? Just got your Eagle Scout badge? Send the news to local media outlets. If they cover your accomplishment, it can get picked up by search engines.
- Set up a LinkedIn page. “It’s one of the best ways to polish your online presence,” says Mendelsohn. “Create a ‘resume’ of your academic and athletic accomplishments, after-school jobs and community service. Ask teachers, family friends, coaches and other respected adults in your life for endorsements of your character and skills. If you babysit for someone high up at a company, for example, and get her to write about what a great sitter you are, your name may get linked to that company in online searches, which looks terrific for you,” Mendelsohn notes.
- From now on, keep it clean. It’s too late to take back last month’s F-word-studded email about your chemistry teacher. Going forward, though, be careful about anything you send out online. Even Snapchats, which are supposed to disappear after a few seconds, can be saved with a screen grab and used against you. “I’ve seen people drop a dime on friends,” says Brian Johnson, coordinator of recruitment and outreach at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina, and former assistant director of admissions at North Carolina Central University. “If two pals are competing for admission to the same school, one might send in a picture of the other doing something he shouldn’t be with a note saying, ‘I just thought you should know about this,’” says Johnson. Some pal.