Word to the Wise: Clean Up Your Social Media

By Patricia Gorden Neill - March 26th, 2013

Applying to college requires a significant amount of time and effort on the part of high school seniors. Forms to fill out, college visits and interviews to arrange and multiple essays to write mean a lot of work for an already busy teen. After all this effort, how would you feel if your application to your dream college was denied, and all because of a silly vulgar picture of you and your friends on Facebook? It’s easy to guess the answer to that question, but you might never know it was that Facebook post that pushed your application from the acceptance to the deny pile.

College admissions offices are staffed by people who more than likely have Facebook accounts themselves. They certainly are aware of social media, and many check social media profiles of applicants. A 2012 Kaplan Test Prep survey of over 350 college admission personnel found that over 25 percent checked Facebook accounts and used Google searches. The worrisome thing is that the percentage of admission officers finding something that negatively affected the student’s application tripled from 12 to 35 percent this year. In other words, a picture of you drinking a beer, partying with friends or posting off-putting rants can hurt your chances of acceptance at a college.

Savvy seniors are beginning to take note and clean up their social media profiles prior to beginning the college application process. Some students delete their Facebook accounts altogether until the admission decisions are made. Other students block pictures or narrow their Faceboook privacy settings. Perhaps when you were in 8th grade it was fun and funny to post off-color jokes or to leave hilarious rude remarks on a friend’s page. High school juniors and seniors, however, are beginning to move into the adult world where irresponsible social media postings can have a huge negative impact. People who have boasted of crimes they’ve committed on a Facebook page have been arrested, tried and jailed because police also check the social media. People have been fired because of online behavior. And college applicants have been denied acceptance to a college because they neglected to clean up their social media profile.

Colleges are beginning to formulate social media policy, but according to the Kaplan survey, only 15 percent of colleges have an established policy so far. Of those with a social media policy, 69 percent prohibit admissions personnel from checking a student’s online presence. While colleges cannot check every applicant’s social media for the same reason they can’t possibly interview thousands of students, they do search an applicant’s social media if an important scholarship or other high stakes decision is in the offing. Scholarship committees are also likely to check an applicant’s online profile.

While Facebook can only be checked once inside the social network itself, most other social media such as Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter will show up if an applicant’s name is searched via Google, making even more material available to college admissions. So merely restricting Facebook privacy settings isn’t the only thing students should worry about. Anything they’ve posted anywhere could show up in a Google search.

While students may grumble about the situation, they’re beginning to adapt to it and clean up their act before applying to college. Many students are wising up even more and are using social media to present themselves as promising scholars to colleges, an idea we’ll discuss in another article. The point is, while an online profile could have a negative impact, social media can also be used to create a positive snapshot of who you are.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.