HomeArticlesSocial Media: The Pros and Cons for the College-Bound

It has become apparent over the past few years that our lives are no longer private. If we engage in social media we are only 4.3 degrees of separation from everyone in the world. To understand the scope and breadth of this fairly recent phenomenon, just think. If Facebook was a country it would be the third largest in the world.

The power of social media is indisputable. It helped to create the Arab Spring. It exposed Iran’s phony election results a few years ago. In the business realm, employers now vet the online reputations of job candidates as a matter of course. Cyber bullying causes irreparable harm to children and teens.

Research shows various forms of social media are utilized by 73% of all internet users and 90% of those ages 18-29. Knowing the power and ease of access to these tools, it is important for teens to recognize their value and pitfalls. If you’re planning to attend college in the next few years it’s especially important to understand the negative impact your Facebook and Twitter information can possibly have on your prospects as an applicant.

New research from Kaplan Test Prep suggests that online scrutiny of college hopefuls is growing. “Students’ social media and digital footprint can sometimes play a role in the admissions process,”say Christine Brown, the executive director of K-12 and college prep programs at Kaplan Test Prep. “It’s something that is becoming more ubiquitous and less looked down upon. Given the impulsiveness of typical teenagers, however — not to mention the already fraught nature of college acceptances and rejections — the idea that admissions officers would covertly nose around the social media posts of prospective students seems more chilling.”

A student responding to a writing assignment in response to the above statements, said, “—– institutions of higher learning should use social media as a means of gaining more information on an applicant’s personal life and how that personal life affects the professional world. Interviews can make a person look like a paragon of virtue on the outside, but one look at their social media can reveal their true character for better or for worse. If a Catholic school is looking at an applicant who posts pictures of himself drinking, partying, and posting rude comments about teachers, why should the school accept that student?”

Colleges Have a Big Presence on Social Media.
In fact, it exceeds that of students on Twitter and You Tube. Recently released figures from the 2013-14 Almanac of the Chronicle of Higher Education indicated 95% of all colleges reported a presence on Facebook in 2012. Eighty-five per cent had a presence on Twitter and 83% on YouTube. One of the earliest admissions directors to adopt social media was Matt McGann, a 2,000 alum of MIT. He was personally responsible for humanizing the institutional face of MIT.

Colleges have invested considerable time, money and personnel to create an identity or “brand” on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Students can follow the colleges that appeal to them by establishing accounts with the colleges and accessing valuable information that will enable them to differentiate between schools. A significant benefit is that more and more colleges will note which students follow their college on social media as a sign of “demonstrated interest.”

On the flip side, how many colleges actually scrutinize a student’s Facebook page and Twitter feeds? Apparently it is a growing practice with approximately 30% of colleges admissions officers googling or visiting an applicant’s Facebook page. This number will surely grow. Cindy Crawford, an assistant director of admissions at the University of Georgia believes many see social media as the “true view” of a student’s character. A recent article in the New York Times was titled, They Loved Your GPA. Then They Saw Your Tweets.

Opportunities Exist for Creating Positive Impact with Social Media Creative students can share their accomplishments in numerous intelligent ways that would surely impress people in admissions offices. A student’s identity on Twitter and Facebook can add immeasurably to his college application by promoting his creativity, talents, knowledge and values.

Conversely, students should learn to clean up their social media footprint. They should review and set their privacy settings and monitor to see who they allow in. Be selective of names of only those friends who are trustworthy and responsible. Refuse people who might have negative comments about you. Controls are currently underutilized. Use them to manage your Facebook and control security.

According to my teen gurus, Instagram and Twitter are where social media is happening now. Many students use Facebook as a front but communicate more frequently with these. On Twitter, make sure your Handle is clean and professional. Delete old, inappropriate tweets and remove embarrassing pictures. Even, consider starting fresh. Ask yourself, if you were a college admissions officer looking at your social media, would it be impressive or destructive. Use it to enhance who you are and not destroy your college opportunities.

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