As teens approach college age, their social media activities can become a source of anxiety for the entire family. Teens are warned by the media, family, friends, and school counselors that colleges check social media. The warning: Your social media activities can negatively impact college admissions decisions. In response, many high school seniors simply change their names to clever pseudonyms or opt to eliminate their social media presence altogether during the college application process.
This generally accepted “quick fix”may solve one problem, but it overlooks another—no presence on social media is a missed opportunity to impress college decision-makers and can also raise suspicions. When college recruiters can’t find students through social media because the applicant has no discoverable presence or is hiding behind an alias, the recruiter will wonder what the applicant is hiding.
Nearly all four-year colleges are using social media to recruit students and to vet prospective candidates for admission. So the important focus is to consider what social media can do to bolster an applicant’s image. Admissions officers who assess social media as part of the admissions process aren’t only searching for red flags or reasons to reject qualified applicants. When colleges search an applicant’s social media profile, they want to learn more about the applicant. This opens the door of opportunity for teens to set themselves apart from other qualified applicants.
What seems to be missing from the current discussion is the realization that social media can be a tool to impress college officials favorably. Rather than dwelling on the negatives, parents should be working with their teens to unlock the positive powers of social media.
1. Social Media is Never Private. A recommended first step is for parents to discuss the topic of privacy on social media. Tell your teens: all posts to social media are for public consumption, you are never anonymous, and your posts may never disappear. Everyone should consider anything posted online to be public no matter what our privacy settings are. Whether the posting is professional, political, religious, familial, sexual, sophomoric, or intellectual in nature, by placing it in the public domain via social media, we are sharing that information beyond our circle of friends. and it becomes a part of our public record. By posting a status, we are giving our tacit consent for it to be accessed by anyone, at any time and for any reason.
2. Social Media Can Enhance the College Application. The next step is to focus on how a thoughtful and responsible social media presence can help teens stand out in a crowded college field. High school students can be using social media to build a presence that impresses college admissions officers, scholarship committees, and recruiters. Their online activity can demonstrate their skills, interests, activities, athletic accomplishments, and academic accomplishments better than any college essay or personal statement.
The surest way to ensure your student’s social media will be seen and assessed by admissions officers is to provide a link on their application. Just heed the advice of William R. Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard University: “If someone sends us a link of any kind, it doesn’t have to be from some company or some organization, if it seems relevant to making the best possible case for that person’s admission, we will certainly take a look at it.”
3. Social Media Should Validate the Application. Given the large number of college applicants, students should consider their digital presence as a natural extension of their college application. When social media highlights and validates the applicant’s essays and personal statement, the reviewing admissions officer gets confirmation of the same character traits, experiences, and activities. This speaks to authenticity and credibility – which should lead to a higher likability quotient.
Social media is here to stay and will continue to influence character assessments made by colleges and employers. Learning how to build a responsible online presence has become an essential life skill. Encourage your teen to embrace the opportunity.
Alan Katzman is a recognized authority on the importance of teaching students the effective and productive use of social media at all educational levels. Alan founded Social Assurity in 2013 to help students harness social media to curate digital portraits that reflect their true character and potential.