As members of the infamous Millennial Generation, a lot of us are users of social media websites. And it’s not just Facebook anymore – Twitter, Tumblr, Vine, Instagram and Foursquare are all big names in the social networking world now. While this means it’s easier for us to connect with friends, it also might mean sharing info with unknown users. And some of these aforementioned users could be the people holding your future in their hands: college admissions officers.
“It is always absolutely necessary that students are aware of the content they place online,” says Cindy Boyles Crawford, senior assistant director of admissions at the University of Georgia. Though not all colleges and universities take into account an applicant’s social media profiles, they do have the right to look. After all, it’s information on the Internet, and almost everyone can access it.
“Many scholarships, organizations and companies see social media as the ‘true view’ of a student’s character,” Crawford says. “One could easily be outstanding in an interview, then tarnish the image by an irresponsible post on their profile.”
Jacqueline Murphy, director of admission for the undergrad program at Saint Michael’s College, says that while admissions may not always look at your account, more narrowed organizations like athletic departments and financial aid offices might take a peek. “I know of at least a couple of occasions here where a student’s application status was compromised by their social media presence when our athletic department did a little more investigation of transfer applicants and found some very damning information,” Murphy says. “Bottom line, you never know who will be looking for you… where and when.”
This uncertainty of who’s looking makes the relationship between social media and college application process even more unnerving. Though you may have cleaned up your profile to what your mom might think is appropriate, now you’ll need to clean your profile to what an admissions officer or an athletic recruiter or a scholarship coordinator would deem appropriate.
Here are a few tips for cleaning up your various social networking profiles! Be sure to go through all of them, since you likely have some linked accounts (e.g. Twitter and Instagram).
Facebook: Filter “What’s on Your Mind”
Settings, settings, settings! Your first step for cleaning up any social media profile should be clicking on that little gear button tucked away in the corner of the page. Privacy settings are especially important to pay attention to on Facebook, as there are so many options as to who sees what. You should be monitoring your privacy settings and changing who can see your wall, photos and likes; who can tag you in photos and who can look you up. Changing your privacy settings puts you in control of what your profile looks like to others.
Clean up your pictures. Some of us millennials have been on Facebook since middle school, so you probably consider your first few profile pics to be a dark corner of your profile. Well, it’s time to venture back there and delete anything embarrassing, irrelevant and especially inappropriate. After you’ve combed through your photos, your profile should end up free of any pictures with racial slurs, offensive language, inappropriate gestures or clothing and basically anything else you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.
Look over your likes. Again, if you’ve had your account since middle school, you’re probably face-palming right now. Really, go to your page and check out your likes – you’ll find the weirdest, most unnecessary pages. “B*tch Please, I’m a Teenager,” “I stare blankly into my locker when I’m trying to remember my homework,” “Telling your mom something you thought was funny and getting yelled at for it” and “I hate when I actually do my homework and the teacher doesn’t even collect it” aren’t exactly ways you want to present yourself to potential coaches, counselors and admissions officers – not to mention, they can be kind of embarrassing. Take a minute to make sure you’ve only “liked” pages that are recent, relevant and appropriate.
Twitter: Think Before You Tweet
Your handle is essentially your name on Twitter. It’s your username, how people contact you and how users look you up. Therefore, it’s super important to have a clean and professional one. If you want people to know who you are, your handle should somewhat resemble your real name – for example, you could do @firstnamelastname7, or maybe the initial of your first name and your full last name. Try to avoid inappropriate handles like @shitsarahsays867 or outdated, embarrassing names like @kraziprincess494.
Going off of that, be aware of the handles on your “Following” list. You shouldn’t be retweeting content from friends with inappropriate handles like @hotgurl265 or organizations with unprofessional handles like @sexfactsoflife or @shitgirlssay. Though you may not be releasing the content yourself, it shows that you’ve chosen to recirculate this information. Instead, consider following users who tweet about things relative to your professional goals – or at least handles that are more appropriate.
Instagram: A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words… and Maybe Your Future
Photos can be a great way to express yourself, but they can be misconstrued if you’re not careful. Just as you should with any other public photos on social media sites, look over all your Instagram pictures and weed out the inappropriate ones. Delete anything that contains nudity, alcohol or other drugs, racial slurs and/or offensive language or signs. For example, erase any photos of you wearing a T-shirt that endorses a beer company, or a picture of you and your friends making inappropriate gestures to the camera.
In a similar vein as your Twitter handle, consider changing your Instagram username. It should of course be something appropriate and representative of you – though if you don’t want anyone knowing it’s you, don’t register your full name with the account. Make sure your user bio is also relevant and professional. Try to weed out inappropriate quotes or risque jokes that could be taken seriously. If you can’t think of how you want to represent yourself in the bio, it’s always an option to leave it blank!
Tumblr: To Reblog or not to Reblog?
Tumblr is a little different from Facebook and Twitter. Most users don’t put much personal information on their Tumblr accounts (like their job position, birthday, favorite movies, etc.) like many do on Facebook. In fact, some don’t even add their name. That being said, there are still some ways for the public to find your Tumblr account.
If you don’t want an admissions officer discovering your Tumblr account, consider an ambiguous username. Keep it appropriate of course, but unrelated to your full name. Along the same lines, be sure to comb through posts you’ve reblogged for inappropriate content.
Advice for all Users
We know all the threats of being denied solely based off of your social media profiles can be pretty intimidating. Keep in mind that there are ways to use social media sites to your advantage! Take advantage of professional networking sites like LinkedIn, where you can share all of your talents and boast your accomplishments. Some applicants even offer to share their social media profiles on their college applications if they know that it will show a good side of them. As long as you keep your profiles clean, professional and updated, they should be set for sharing with the others!
“If a student provides [his/her social media profile] on their resume or application, then we will take a look at it (Facebook and YouTube being the most popular sites),” says Michael Perron, director of admissions at Becker College. Though he says that he hasn’t come across anything inappropriate, he does say that “students [should] be careful about what they post on the Internet, as more colleges and employers will be further exploring social media platforms and profiles in the very near future.”
The best rule of all is to use your common sense – it can be applied to any social medium. Just be safe and make sure your profiles don’t contain any information or media that you wouldn’t want someone influential to see. Consider using apps like Socioclean to automatically detect inappropriate content – especially if you’ve had your account for several years and delving into the archives would take a while.
Remember to use your common sense and keep in mind that anyone could be viewing your profile, including those who can influence your future. Be safe, and most of all, be smart!