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Social Media and Your College Applications

How to create a stellar social media presence.

Over the past few months, we’ve all learned to live our lives from our homes; for a lot of us, that means living our lives online. Social media has long been an important part of our lives, but in the midst of COVID-19, it’s become one of the only ways to interact with each other. That means that college applicants need to be more careful than ever to make sure their social media presence is a help and not a hindrance.

A January survey by Kaplan shows that admissions officers are interested in students’ social media presences, but that social media is just one part of a larger, holistic view of a student applicant. While a significant portion of surveyed admissions officials said that they check students’ social media profiles at least sometimes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, “what admissions officers find is just as likely to help a student as to hurt them […] 37.9 percent of admissions officers say they found something in an applicants’ [sic] social media profile that helped the prospective student’s cause, compared to 32.3 percent who say they found something that hurt an applicant.”

Let’s get “the bad” out of the way first: obviously, there are ways that your social media presence can hurt you as an applicant. Freedom of speech protects your right to say anything on the internet, but it doesn’t protect you from the consequences of people hearing you say it. In 2017, Harvard rescinded the acceptances of at least 10 students when admissions officers discovered they were part of a Facebook group that shared racist, sexist, and obscene material. Colleges can rescind your acceptance if they find you’ve done or said something that the college deems unacceptable. They don’t do it often, but it does happen. For some colleges, social media accounts aren’t the first glimpse they take into a student’s life, but they’re a useful resource to verify a student’s claims on their application. There have also been reports of anonymous tips that led college admissions officers to content potential applicants posted online. The bottom line is that everything you post is permanent, so you should make sure that anything attached to your name reflects who you plan to be as a student.

Now, the good. Social media can provide opportunities for you to distinguish yourself as an applicant. First of all, it provides an avenue to demonstrate interest, which is the way you interact with college admissions officers to show that you are serious about attending their school if accepted. Demonstrated interest is one area of the college admissions process that social media has completely transformed. It’s easier than ever to engage with college admissions officers via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and interacting with a college’s social media accounts can get you noticed; it can also give you some insight as to whether a school is a good fit for you or not. Now, liking a post on Instagram doesn’t carry the same weight as a personalized email to an admissions officer, but there’s no reason you can’t do both. 

Even beyond demonstrated interest, social media can be a great tool to create your applicant persona, so to speak. Alan Katzman, CEO and founder of Social Assurity (a consulting firm for college applicants) told US News and World Report that it’s a good idea for students to create specific social media accounts for their college search. Your social media portfolio can be an opportunity for you to highlight your skills in a visual way – do you play lacrosse? Build computers? March in the marching band? – Post about these. Curating your online presence might mean looking outside your preferred social media platform. Most teens don’t have a LinkedIn account, but it’s definitely something to look into if you plan to apply to competitive schools. LinkedIn is one place for you to record work experience, internships, and skills that might not fit in an academic transcript. You can link to your social media accounts in your student resume if the colleges you apply to require one.

If you can make your social media presence reflect the unique gifts you’d bring to your college of choice, it can be a great add-on to a strong academic record and great test scores. It’s another way to show admissions officers what kind of person you are, not just what kind of academic record you have.

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