Today’s high school students think of social media and texting the way their parents thought of the plain old telephone — they can’t imagine life without the technology.
But unlike that old technology, the new ones are much more complicated to manage. Everybody knows — or should know — that even private messages and texts may not necessarily remain private. Evidence is emerging that what students post may even influence the college admissions process.
A recent survey of 350 admission officers, reported last year in the New York Times, revealed that 26 percent of respondents reported visiting the social network pages of applicants, and 27 percent admitted to Googling applicants to learn more.
My own experience backs that up. Visiting with admissions officers across the nation last summer, I met some who actively avoid checking social media sites for applicant details, but others confirmed they do check Facebook or other sites to see what students are involved in. At least one office confirmed that if they have misgivings about an applicant, they might be more inclined to do a social media search, just to be sure.
That’s why I always encourage my students to be aware of what they post, as well as what others post, on social media networks. I frequently tell them: If it is not something you would want your mother or grandmother to see, DON’T put it out there!
That doesn’t mean students have to shut down their Instagram account, forget about tweeting or stop their texting sessions with friends. It does mean they need to approach all social media with a degree of caution:
Even if you have all your accounts locked down as private or limited to friends, don’t assume that anything is private. Someone can always take a screenshot, even of that Snapchat message, and then that photo can follow you around forever.
Manage your online reputation. You may wish to set up a Google news alert with your name, so that you can see anything, good or bad, that gets disseminated online. On sites like Facebook, consider managing your settings so that you must approve any photo or post that tags you before it is published.
Use social media proactively and positively. Use it to follow causes (and colleges) you’re interested in, and post about events you attend that an admissions officer, or future employer, might like to know about. In addition, many colleges now have their own social media sites. Some officers told me they track whether applicants visit these sites and if they participate in online dialogue, as this demonstrates interest and commitment on the student’s part.
Consider connecting with a social media “adviser” — a trusted relative or older friend whose judgment you respect, and who promises to let you know if they think anything you’re posting goes “over the line.” (Parents can serve in this role, too, but many students will feel more comfortable with an older cousin or favorite aunt.)
Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college advisor for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, and find the college that’s right for them.