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 two things. 1) No presence on social media is a missed opportunity to impress college decision-makers. 2) No presence can also raise suspicions. If a college recruiter can’t find a student on social media, they may wonder what the applicant is hiding.
Colleges Check Social Media
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 may be searching for red flags. But they also want to learn more about the applicant. This creates an opportunity for teens to set themselves apart from other qualified applicants.
One thing seems to be missing from the current discussion. 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.
It’s Public Record
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. The posting may be 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. It then 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.
Help your teen stand out in a crowded college field. High school students can use 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. Often, better than any college essay or personal statement.
There is one sure way to ensure your student’s social media will be seen and assessed by admissions officers. That 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: “An applicant can send a link of any kind. It doesn’t have to be from some company or some organization. If the link seems relevant and supports the applicant’s reasons for 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. Social media should highlight and validate the applicant’s essays and personal statement. When it does, 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 founded Social Assurity in 2013 to help students harness social media to curate digital portraits that reflect their true character and potential.