Your Social Media Profile: Do You Care?

When it comes to surveying your chances for admission to college, how much attention have you paid to your social media “profile”? What do I mean by “profile”? Well, think about everything that you have put out there on the Web that has your identity attached to it. What kinds of pictures represent you on Facebook? What kinds of things have you said on Twitter? How about Google+, Friendster, LinkedIn, etc.?

If you want to see just how many social media platforms there are, take a look at the Top 52 Social Media Platforms Every Marketer Should Know. The amazing part of that page’s title is “Top 52,” which implies that there are more than 52! Also, it refers to “Every Marketer.” As a college applicant, you are a marketer too. You are marketing your profile to admissions committees.

Over the years in writing my blog posts here, I have often referred to what I call “student profile marketing.” What that means is that you are a “product” of sorts. You are (hopefully) presenting the very best aspects of yourself to the “buyer” (the colleges) so that they will consider you to be someone whom they want to acquire. Obviously, this process is not as stringently objective as buying a particular kind of cold medicine at the drugstore, but the essential principle is the same.

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So what’s the problem? What can possibly go wrong?

Well, I received an interesting and instructive report from the Kaplan test prep people the other day, headlined Kaplan Test Prep Survey: Percentage of College Admissions Officers Who Visit Applicants’ Social Networking Pages Continues to Grow — But Most Students Shrug. Here’s what it said. It’s worth a read and your consideration.

Over a third (35%) of college admissions officers have visited an applicant’s social media page to learn more about them, according to Kaplan Test Prep’s 2014 survey of college admissions officers.*  This is the highest percentage since Kaplan first began tracking the issue in 2008, when just under one in ten admissions officers reported doing so. But even as this practice becomes more commonplace, college admissions officers are actually finding fewer things online that negatively impact applicants’ chances — just 16% reported doing so this year, down from 30% last year and 35% two years ago.

“As social media has evolved from early versions of MySpace and Facebook to a broad ecosystem of platforms and apps that are a daily part of millions of people’s lives worldwide, we’re seeing greater acceptance of social media use in the college admissions process. This means admissions officers are increasingly open to what they once viewed as a dubious practice, while teens have come to terms with the fact that their digital trails are for the most part easily searchable, followable and sometimes judged,” said Christine Brown, executive director of K12 and college prep programs for Kaplan Test Prep.

A separate Kaplan survey of over 500 high school students shows that 58% describe their social networking pages as “fair game” for admissions officers.** In fact, 35% of students said that if a college admissions officer were to visit their social networking page(s), what they found would actually help their chances of getting in.  Only 3% said it would hurt their chances; 62% said it would make no difference.  And even as schools have adopted social media for recruiting purposes, some savvy teens see it as another channel for promoting themselves. Kaplan’s survey also finds that while most students are indifferent to the role of social media in the admissions process, at least 18% plan to use online channels to help improve their college admissions chances.

“There’s no doubt social media has become increasingly a part of the admissions process, but students should recognize that it still plays only a peripheral role.  The majority of admissions officers are not looking at Facebook for applicant information, and even those who are typically do so as an anomaly — because they were flagged, either positively or negatively, to particular applicants,” said Brown. “Admissions chances are still overwhelmingly decided by the traditional factors of high school GPA, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, personal essays and extracurricular activities.  Applicants’ online personas are really a wild card in the admissions process: the bottom line for students is that what you post online likely won’t get you into college, but it just might keep you out.”

*For the 2014 survey, 403 admissions officers from the nation’s top national, regional and liberal arts colleges and universities – as compiled from U.S. News & World Report – were polled by telephone between July and August 2014.

**From a Kaplan e-survey conducted in October 2014 of 520 students from across the United States, who took a Kaplan SAT course.

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As I mentioned in a previous post about this topic:

“You may want to take a close look at your college applications: your major essay(s), your short responses, and any  ‘Additional Information’ comments you’ve made. How do you think your readers in admissions would see you? Do you come off as confident, original, unorthodox, or an arrogant smarty pants? My theory is that if you clearly stand out from the mountain of other applicants in a certain way, your admissions readers may take a quick detour to your Facebook page to try to confirm any first-blush reactions they have about you.

“So, then, what will they see when they get there? What’s on your wall? What kind of impression do those posts and pictures convey about you? Have you made any astounding philosophical revelations? Espoused any strongly political leanings? Maybe you love the Occupy Wall Streeters. Maybe you’re a big Herman Cain fan. Maybe you couldn’t care less about what’s going on in the world. What kinds of people and friends hang out with you on Facebook?

“My theory also includes a caution: Beware promoting one type of personality in your college applications and a completely different one on Facebook. Don’t be a two-faced Facebooker. If you try to come off as being an intellectual in your college applications and then have Homer Simpson-like statements and images on your Facebook page . . . well, I don’t have to explain the consequences of that. Likewise, if you claim to belong to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and there are pictures of you chugging a yard of beer, well, again . . .”

The lesson here seems simple enough. If you’re concerned about the small-detail aspects of your college applications, take an objective look at what you have posted about yourself online. Taking that approach one step further, try to find out what others have posted about you.

Search engines are notoriously effective and even though your own postings may be squeaky clean, your buddies may have compromised your cleanliness by posting that picture of you chugging a quart of Don Juan Sour Grape, complete with a colorful caption containing your search-engine-attracting name.

Think about it. To paraphrase Smokey the Bear, “Only you can prevent becoming an idiot.” Or, “The admissions you save may be your own.”

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.