College Applications and Social Media in 2021
The good, the bad, and the possibilities.
Social media is a big part of teen life, and in the midst of COVID-19, it became a primary way to interact with friends. 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.
While colleges don’t always look at applicants’ social media profiles, it’s important to know that they might and what they find can impact their admissions decisions – for good or bad.
Let’s get “the bad” out of the way first: obviously, there are ways that your social media presence can hurt you as a college applicant. Although you have the right to free speech, there’s a limit to how far that freedom goes. This year, the Supreme Court ruled that a student cannot be punished for what they say on social media, even if it is vulgar, profane, or racist. However, just because you can’t be punished for saying something doesn’t mean you won’t face any consequences.
Colleges maintain the right to deny or rescind acceptance at-will (apart from areas protected by civil rights law). In 2017, Harvard rescinded the acceptances of at least 10 students when admissions officers discovered they were part of a Facebook group that shared racist, sexist, and obscene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. It’s not entirely clear how the 2021 Supreme Court ruling will affect colleges’ right to revoke acceptance for a student’s social media presence, but there’s a big difference between expelling a current student and simply not offering a spot to a hopeful. One is a punishment, and the other is simply a choice the admissions office is free to take.
Social media isn’t always a screaming red flag in admissions; it has other uses during the process. 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 are as a student.
Now, the good. Social media can provide opportunities for you to distinguish yourself as an applicant. First of all, social media 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. 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.