Can Your Kid's Social Media Behavior Affect Her College Admissions?
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Your child's application to his dream college looks solid. His transcript is full of As. He's aced the SATs. He's captain of the soccer team and organized the school blood drive.
But his Instagram feed is sprinkled with photos from a party where kids were drinking beer. He's Tweeted a few times about being bored in calculus. His Facebook wall is full of off-color jokes.
Could teenage indiscretions lower his odds of getting into college?
In 2012 Kaplan Test Prep surveyed 350 admission counselors from colleges across the country and found that more than one-quarter checked out applicants on Facebook or Google. Thirty-five percent of them found something in these virtual inspections that negatively affected a student's chances of being accepted. These numbers have gone up in the four years since Kaplan started questioning admission counselors about social media.
When Counselors Check Social Media
Counselors don't have time to search for each applicant's Facebook page. But Kaplan found that admission officers sometimes check on social media if something on a student's application seems exaggerated or too good to be true.
"Social media serves as sort of a wild card," says Jeff Olson, vice president of data science at Kaplan Test Prep. "There is a chance that it could come into play."
Sometimes admissions offices are tipped off to an applicant's social media profiles.
Angel Perez, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at Pitzer College, says counselors at his school don't actively search students' social media pages. But current Pitzer students occasionally tip him off about applicants.
Usually this happens after an applicant spends the night on campus with a Pitzer student and connects with her host on Facebook. If a current student sees something disturbing – like an applicant spreading rumors about a teacher – the student might alert Pitzer's admissions office.
Activity that casts a student in a negative light could change an admission decision from a "yes" to a "no," Perez adds.
"Part of what we’re doing here is building a community," he says. "Our whole mission is social responsibility, and we take that very seriously,"
These days, "social media" doesn't just mean "Facebook." That's why a growing number of admission officers are searching applicants' names on Google, Olson says. A Google search is likely to pull up an applicant's Facebook profile, check-ins on Foursquare, photos on Instagram and tweets on Twitter.
Counselors understand that no teen is perfect. But they're on the lookout for signs that a particular applicant wouldn't be a good fit on campus.
"Schools are very concerned about their reputation, and they're concerned about the environment they're creating with who they're admitting to the school," Olson explains.
Safeguarding Your Child's Profiles
Social media are such an integral part of life that many teens have a hard time understanding that their posts aren't truly private, says Ken Chaplin, spokesman for online monitoring company SafetyWeb. That's especially true for pictures. Teens take them every day and don't consider that they could be visible to anyone with a Web connection.
"When I was looking for colleges I didn't think my home photo album would be up for grabs," Chaplin says.
So how can you and your child prevent social media from leading to a college rejection letter? Experts offer these tips:
- Search. Regularly check for your student's name in Google and other search engines. College admissions counselors are likely to do the same. If this is too time-consuming take advantage of paid services that search the Internet for you. For example, SafetyWeb tracks a child's online activities, including photos and posts on social media.
- Use privacy settings. Every social media platform is different, but they all allow users to keep their activities private. Adjust these settings so your teen's account is not visible to the general public.
- Remove past posts. Teens often post musings on Facebook and Twitter that they later regret. "They may have been really upset with a teacher, or a parent, or a boyfriend or girlfriend," Chaplin says. Deleting these posts makes a profile more palatable to an admissions counselor.
- Beware of pictures. Maybe your teen went to a party where some of his friends were smoking marijuana, but he wasn't. Being tagged in a photo with other kids smoking pot raises doubts about your own child's character. Your teen can prevent this from happening by adjusting settings on his account to have more control over being tagged in pictures.
- Think before you post. "It's not necessary to share absolutely everything," Olson says.
The main message you should give your college-bound teen is that social media posts are visible to anyone on the Internet – including the admissions office at her first-choice college. If she's judicious with what she posts, she doesn't risk derailing her dreams with a careless mistake.
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