Using Social Media to Your Advantage

social media and college admissions

Here’s a fun fact: from 2018 until now, the number of admissions officers who creep on applicants’ social media accounts has risen by 11 percent. Well, it’s a fun fact or a terrifying fact depending on what your pages contain. And there’s more –  while 42 percent of admissions counselors reported that looking at social media pages made them view applicants positively, a whopping 58 percent said that social media pages actually made them view applicants more negatively. The moral of the story? Admissions officers are looking at your pages… so why not think of yours as an extension of your application?

When I was in high school, I heard the same Facebook advice (or warnings) over and over: Don’t post inappropriate pictures. Don’t post private details. Don’t curse. And, most importantly, take advantage of those privacy settings. In other words, keep your online image squeaky clean, but then lock it down so tightly that no one can see anything anyway. This advice was helpful, there’s an aspect that was missing. Instead of simply discouraging posting the negative stuff on Facebook, why not encourage posting the positive stuff? Why not give them something positive or impressive to see?

I won’t beat a dead horse and remind you not to post inappropriate pictures from spring break or vulgar Eminem lyrics. Instead, we’ll focus on how you can actually use social media to catch the eye of any admissions counselor who is lurking on your page – and trust us, they are.

Figure out what exactly on your profile is public, and make it college admissions-friendly…

Log out of all your social media pages (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) and then go to your page from a browser. What can a non-follower, non-friend see on your page? On most things, they can probably see profile photos and your “bio” section, so make sure both are school-friendly. On Facebook, scour your privacy settings to figure out just how much is visible to someone who isn’t your friend. Another handy trick is clicking on the icon with three dots on your profile, and selecting “View As” to see how your profile appears to the public. Take note of what admissions counselors can see – and then delete and adjust accordingly.

… but consider everything posted online to be public, regardless of privacy settings.

You know what’s easier than worrying about privacy settings or figuring out what exactly colleges can see? Simply never posting anything that is inappropriate or even remotely borderline inappropriate.

Instead, let your profiles help admissions counselors see even more of the authentic human being behind the application. Everything you post should reinforce the things you shared in your application and spoke about in your personal statement. If you talked about how a volunteer experience changed your life, share that experience on your socials. Post photos from sports and clubs and competitions. Link credible articles that interest you. In short, make your social media pages an online resume that only works to make you a stronger, more likable applicant.

Only post profile and cover photos that would make your grandmother proud.

That picture of you sticking your tongue out in a swimsuit on spring break is funny, but it doesn’t exactly scream, “I am a scholar and philanthropist who will become an upstanding member of a college campus!” Just saying.

It’s important to make sure your profile and cover photos are not only appropriate, but ideally showcase the best version of yourself. Choose something your grandma would happily put in a frame on her bedside table. A senior portrait or a simple, smiling photo are great choices! Photos of you doing something you love, like playing a sport or participating in an extracurricular, are also great. When I was applying to college, my profile photo was a picture of me accepting an award at a journalism conference. I call that a humble brag photo, and I’m all for it.

Click through your visible albums, and make sure that ALL of your past profile and cover photos are appropriate. Delete the others.

Write a bio that reads like a short, cool resume.

This is particularly important if your page is tightly locked down and the only thing an admissions officer can see is your photo and brief bio. Use the available space to write a little bit about who you are. What are your passions? What are your your extracurriculars? Highlight them briefly! A short and sweet bio that reads something like, “CHS ‘22. Volleyballer and runner, amateur blogger. Aspiring attorney usually binging true crime podcasts” shows a) that you have school spirit, b) you’re proud of your extracurricular involvement, c) you enjoy writing as a hobby, d) you have ambitious goals, and e) you’re an interesting human! Boom.

Share your voice with public posts.

Every time you post on Facebook, you can choose who is able to see that specific post. This is a great way to cherry pick posts that you want admissions counselors to see. If you posted about your soccer team winning state, that’s definitely a post to set to public. If an article you wrote for the school newspaper is posted online, that’s public-worthy. If you’re raising money for a charitable cause near and dear to your heart, make that post public. In other words, make your passion posts and humble-brags public!

Additionally, this is another easy way to showcase your passions and interests. You can share articles and videos that you find interesting, or use it to recommend great books or films. Set all of these kinds of posts to public, and admissions counselors will get to know a lot more about who you are. Steer clear of controversial issues and, as always, make sure your posts are appropriate, kind, and grammatically correct!

This is also an easy thing to do via Twitter. If you’ve got an account on the platform to goof around with friends and vent about random things, I’d recommend making that one private (and taking off your last name to make it harder to find) or deleting it all together if you aren’t attached to it. You can start a fresh account with your full name that you specifically use to follow schools (and like/retweet/reply to their posts!), repost things that interest you, network with people in your prospective field, and so on.

Get on LinkedIn.

I used to think LinkedIn was only for people with college degrees and careers, but that’s not the case. In fact, a strong LinkedIn profile can really help a high school student stand out from the crowd when it comes to college admissions. This is a perfect platform to showcase current extracurriculars, projects, skills, summer activities, professional experience, as well as the goals and plans you have for your future. This article has a lot of specific pointers for building your first LinkedIn profile (if you don’t have one yet), or optimizing an existing one.

Google yourself.

See what college admissions officers will see when they Google you. If your social media pages pop up first, make sure they’re cleaned up. You might be surprised at what else pops up. Going forward, you can be proactive about changing what pops up when you search your name. As The Princeton Review suggests, “Try starting your own foodie blog or commenting on online news stories from your local paper or even the New York Times to boost your online presence. Just make sure your comments are positive.”

After you’ve spent hours on your college essays, triple checked your application, collected recommendation letters, and paid the application fees, it’s worth it to spend some time polishing up your online presence. In an era when college admissions are more competitive than ever, cover your bases and make sure your online presence is on point.