More college admissions officers are checking the Internet for your students’ web fingerprints, according to Kaplan’s 2012 survey. A whopping 87 percent of admissions officers check Facebook and 76 percent look at students’ Twitter profiles. Kaplan also found that 35 percent of officers found something online that “negatively impacted” a student’s application. This has prompted counselors to encourage students to play defense by increasing privacy settings and removing questionable material. In addition, you can instruct your students to use social media to their advantage.
Hop online and play around
“It’s important to know how students use social media now to counsel on how to use it responsibly during the college application process,” says Julie Fulton, CEO of Mosaic College Prep, a full-service college admissions program based in Los Angeles. Create your own profile on several of the major social media sites and click around to get a feel for how it works.
This doesn’t mean you now have to be active on Facebook or tweet everyday. But it is important to know the difference between tweeting and pinning. Fulton highlights Facebook and Twitter as the most important for college admissions. But Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr are other big ones to know.
Know why they are looking
“From my experience, the concerns about colleges using social media to spy on students are overblown,” says Fulton. Colleges cannot vet every student online. Patrick Winter, Senior Associate Director of the University of Georgia’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions confirms, “We simply do not have the time to investigate more than 25,000 applicants each year through reviewing their social media presence.”
Therefore, many online encounters that schools have with students are unplanned. Abby Siegel, a college entrance consultant in New York City, recalls one admissions officer received an email from a potential applicant and looked up his Facebook profile simply to remember what he looked like. Some schools use Google alerts that show when they are mentioned online and catch students bashing them this way.
Since schools may come looking anytime, make sure your students are ready. Encourage them to post pictures from sporting events or volunteer projects. “Students should use social media pages as an extension of who they are,” says Fulton. Admissions officers want to know who your students are, so social media should reveal authenticity and personality.
Apart from social media, websites can be a great way to showcase a particular talent. Several applications, including the Common Application, allow students to upload links to websites. Fulton mentions a student who used a website to show video footage of her competitive ballroom dancing performances. “Beyond just sending a list of her…it gave the admissions officers who might not be familiar with ballroom, a sense of what she does,” says Fulton.
“Remember that admissions officers have limited time to review applicants…be concise in everything you present to them,” advises Fulton. Assume an admissions officer is not going to click through a multi-page site, so keep everything on one page.
Emphasize to students that they must always be professional when dealing with admissions officers. Even their email addresses can raise red flags for colleges. “It’s a good idea for students to create an email address that they will use solely for their college correspondence — silly or embarrassing addresses do not paint the picture of a serious student when emailing with a college,” says Winter.
Emphasize the “social” part
“A lot of kids don’t realize that a lot of schools are going to start monitoring how much they show interest,” says Siegel. Remind your students to “like” each school’s Facebook page and follow them on Twitter. But also encourage them to go beyond that by adding an informal but substantial response. “A student who asks a question on Facebook about double majoring in Classics and Drama because of an interest in Greek tragedy, may get a note put in his file about his unique interest and might even get connected with a professor with a similar scholastic interest,” says Fulton.
Social media has certainly infiltrated our society. But instead of fighting it, like you would any other invader, learn its ways and make it your ally. War metaphors aside, the Internet is a great place for your students to showcase their talents and interests. And they can do it effectively with a little guidance from you.