Student Life

Time for a social media audit

By Robin Noble

To research this piece, I began with a quick review of my student’s Twitter account.

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High School Parent | College Parent

That pursuit launched this exchange:

<  When you get home today you are to SCOUR your Twitter account or delete it completely. I don’t care who said what. DO NOT RETWEET FOUL REMARKS. I expect you to use better judgment. 

<  Mom that account was from freshman year. I honestly don’t even know my user name and password. I thought when I deleted the app I deleted the account. I’ll look at it when I get home. 

Like mine, your high school student probably doesn’t think much about her social media presence. The ubiquity of digital communications has made students entirely comfortable with casually sharing themselves online for the world to see.

The problem is, outsiders with influence can access these digital impressions to size a student up for competitive college admissions, scholarships, and internships. When they do, a careless two-second blip can have negative consequences.

In Kaplan Test Prep’s 2013 survey of college admissions officers, about 31% said they have Googled an applicant or visited an applicant’s Facebook or other social networking page.  True, it’s a minority, but the practice seems to be trending up. In 2011, 25% of surveyed admissions officers admitted they looked; in 2008, 10% did.

story-icon-bar-convo-3Students can be themselves online, but they should always use good manners. USA Today’s College site suggests the “Grandma/First Grader/Boss” rule of thumb. If it can’t be shared with all of three of these, it shouldn’t be on social media.

Many universities are just now developing policies for how to ethically view and evaluate an applicant’s social media presence, and many won’t do it at all.  But it’s probably natural for admissions officers — many of whom are young enough to have considerable social media experience themselves — to seek more information about students than test scores and essays can offer, especially in competitive situations.

Data on social media inquiries by scholarship committees don’t exist, but Lisa Brussell, a partner with Peak Admissions in Boulder, Colorado, says they definitely are looking.

“I was helping a student apply for a Daniels Fund Scholarship,” Ms. Brussell says. “After making it to the final interview stage, she was told that the committee had thoroughly reviewed her Facebook and Twitter accounts as part of their regular due diligence. Luckily they were in good shape.”

Ms. Brussell cautions students to monitor more than their own posts. “If friends are posting anything inappropriate to your account, those things need to go,” she explains. “We tell our students to avoid any impression of drinking or drug use. Stick to academics, sports, clubs and hobbies.”

In other words, if it’s not generally wholesome, your student needs to take the social out of her social media.

That doesn’t mean she can’t be true to herself online. Nor that she needs — as some admissions consultants actually are advising — to endlessly play the part of the perfect student. Deleting accounts or going incognito with pseudonyms isn’t necessarily a good idea either; lacking any online presence may raise red flags.

Now is a good time to review what’s out there. Ask your student to conduct his own social media audit, and make adjustments now. He can start by Googling his name, checking all social media accounts, and eliminating negative impressions. If adverse posts by friends persist, he should block the friends from these accounts. Finally, he should check to see that any old accounts he thought were deactivated are really gone.

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