It’s that time of year again. Graduation season is upon us. Not only are kids looking forward to summer vacations; graduating high school seniors are looking forward to their freshman year of college. High school juniors, sophomores and even freshmen are beginning their college research and application process. Colleges are looking to recruit the best of the best.
But, there is an evil lurking that could harm your kids’ ability to be accepted by the university of their choice, and that evil is called social media.
There was a time when a good GPA, involvement in extracurricular activities, and a great essay were all a student needed to get into the college of his or her choice. Now, students need to do more to impress college admission officers.
According to a recent study, colleges and universities pay attention to what prospective students post on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. Kaplan Test Prep conducted a survey of more than 350 college admissions officers in the U.S. Of those officers polled, 35 percent reported they looked at applicants' social media accounts to learn more about them. 42 percent said what they found had a negative impact on their view of the applicant.
For her thesis, Christine Badowski Koenig, formerly with The Chicago Tribune, conducted research on the subject. She surveyed 144 colleges and universities within 150 miles of Chicago, including all Big Ten universities. Of those that replied, 67 percent of the schools admitted to looking up a prospective student on Google. 86 percent admitted to researching students' social media sites. Why? Colleges want to avoid potential bad apples from spoiling their brand, among other reasons.
In recent years, students have faced disciplinary consequences for using offensive language and images on their social media pages, including having admissions decisions reversed.
So what can a college hopeful do to prevent such actions and look their best to admissions officers?
1. Keep it clean – Post only positive images. Did your kid volunteer at a local animal shelter? Are they involved with your church? Did they participate in a mentoring program? Have they started a small business? Are they creative? Whatever the case may be, your teen can boost his or her image on social media by only posting photos and videos that make them shine like a star. Also, make sure their screen name or handle is simple and professional.
2. Check privacy settings – Make sure privacy settings are set to “friends only” and don’t allow friends to tag to your kid’s page. Enable tag review in their Facebook settings. Turn on "privacy mode” in Instagram, which blocks an Instagram photo feed from everyone except selected “followers.” Go to the 'Who Can…' section in Snapchat and customize who can view their story.
3. Google it – See what the ultimate search engine has to say about your kid(s). This is one of the first places college admissions officers look when researching candidates for their school. If you don’t like what you see, change it. Social media sites usually come up at the top of a search. Refer to #1 above and change the story by creating a more positive one.
4. Join LinkedIn – Posting personal photos is a big no-no on LinkedIn. It’s all business, so if you want your college hopeful to show everyone they are serious about their career, they need to start becoming more social on the world’s biggest professional networking site. Help them connect with potential employers, teachers, your colleagues and your friends’ colleagues.
5. Encourage them to participate in groups that interest them – They can join LinkedIn or Facebook groups that share their interests, passions and goals and actively participate in them to boost their digital footprint. This could also help your kid get his or her foot in the door of their favorite school or future employer.
While social media is a great way to share and connect with friends, at a certain point in life, it is time to get serious. Nothing is sacred anymore, and you never know who’s watching. The way your kids use social media now can affect their future so teach them to use it wisely and use it as an opportunity to show colleges who they really are beyond grades and essays.