How a Social Media Profile Affects College Admissions

Tips include increasing privacy settings, reviewing photos and posts, cleaning up groups and "likes", and making sure you have an appropriate email address.
Students looking at a tablet

First things first…pulling up my Google Chrome browser, I am naturally drawn to Facebook -  who isn't? I only have to physically type the letter "F" and there appears my feed. As a late twenty-something, I am just as in tune with social media as any high school student. But as a college admissions counselor, I actually use Facebook for some facets of my job, which is important information for any student applying to college.

So, if you're a high school senior… junior, sophomore - and yes, even freshman - why should you be reading this? Listen close…YOUR FACEBOOK REPRESENTS YOU. I know the first time I meet someone, or search for a new roommate, or discover a social group, I first look them up on Facebook. I comb through any public photos I can find, study what jobs, comments, and articles are posted. Even "likes" and the "about me" section make it into my reading material. Well, yes, this is in my personal life. But, guess what? The boundary between personal and work has been blurred by this tech-savvy world we live in, and now my job entails me checking the social media profile of prospective students. It's easy to interpret a close friend's posts, and understand who that person is despite their Facebook personality. But, for someone you don't know…

Checking a student's personal Facebook page may not be a concrete part of our admissions process, but I cannot guarantee it isn't significantly used at some institutions. How is doing some research on your past social history any different than checking into a criminal record, or an academic record for that matter? Though it is not as frequent, or as concrete, as grade recalculation, or super-scoring SATs®, it can happen. More importantly, employers will someday be looking into that profile of yours - so why not go ahead and fix it up?

Let's do a short exercise here…

  1. Take a minute and think about someone you look up to, who is a mentor to you.
  2. Imagine how this person views you.
  3. Now imagine this very mentor clicking through your Facebook feed, and looking through all of your photos.
  4. Reflect: How are you feeling? Are there things you wouldn't want him or her to see?

Don't worry, we're on a team here. Admissions counselors are not here to seek out negatives, and honestly we often focus on the positive. Our role is to help you through this maze of a process. Take five minutes and read through these tips to clean up your social media profile.

  1. Increase your privacy settings (seriously) on all social media accounts.
    This should take you a matter of minutes. Facebook even linked up a nice little shortcut (hint: look for the lock). You can even "view as" to see what non-friends can see your page.
  2. Those pictures though…
    Pay close attention to your profile picture and cover photo. If you choose to adjust those privacy settings we talked about, these should be the only pictures the public can see. If you have friends that like tagging you in inappropriate photos, do yourself a favor and require an approval before having them appear on your wall. We aren't looking for photos of your nose in a book (unless that is your thing), or a cover photo that says "I <3 Academics," but just be mindful of the image these photos represent.
  3. Posts, in general
    Remember, even when your profile is completely locked down and private, your posts on other pages or friend's pages can still be seen. There is that whole "friend of friend" piece, and trust me, the world is small!
  4. Groups and "likes"
    Again, this information can be public. "Cat lovers" or "Game of Thrones" groups are not going to concern us, but liking beer pages, since you are likely underage, doesn't give us the best representation of who you are.
  5. Email Address
    I'm going to be brutally honest here. We all talk about the most ridiculous email addresses each and every application season. We do. I would suggest creating a brand new email address just for your college inquiries and applications. Use your name if you can. Not only does this make you look good, but it will also keep random junk mail at bay so you can focus on what is important.

In a world where technology plays a significant role in our social worlds, it is always important to use your head. Cleaning up your social media pages is always in good practice, even outside of the admissions process. On the flipside, social media allows for us to connect with you, and for you to get to know your classmates at a much earlier stage than in the past.

Considering both the advantages and disadvantages of social media, I feel I can summarize the admissions counselor's perspective in two words: BE MINDFUL.

Best of luck in your college search!