How your social media presence affects your scholarship applications

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By Monikah Schuschu

If you’re a teenager today, chances are that you have an active presence on social media. Facebook is particularly popular among people of all age groups, but you may also use Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, or myriad other social networks to communicate with your friends and curate your public image.

In your experience with social media, you’ve probably already learned a few lessons about what to do and what not to do online, and much of this advice sounds like common sense. However, it’s always a good idea to check in with yourself and make sure that you’re keeping your university goals in mind as you build your online presence.

  Does my social media presence matter for university applications?

As a university-bound high school student, you’ve likely been told to be careful about what you post online due to the possibility that admissions offices are watching.

Briefly, it’s unlikely that committees will go to the trouble of digging deep into your social media profile. However, you need to be aware that anything you do or post online can potentially come to the attention of university admissions officers, as well as hiring managers, scholarship committees, law enforcement, and other agencies that can impact your future.

Admissions offices may be more likely to look into your social media profile if they’re unsure about whether to accept you and want more details about your accomplishments. They might also search you out if they have reason to be uncertain or suspicious about the information that you’ve submitted.

Sometimes, universities can be exposed to information you’ve posted on social media, as well as other information about you, without having to actively search for it. There have been cases in which other students, teachers, or community members have tipped a university off about a negative factor that the student did not mention on their application.

Given the size of today’s applicant pools, universities simply don’t have the time to routinely check in on every single applicant’s online presence, but if they do choose to do so, there’s a lot that they can find out. A small misstep here or there likely won’t torpedo your application, but evidence of major misconduct, poor judgment, or untruthfulness can definitely affect the admission committee’s final decision.

Your social media profiles are part of your public persona, and it’s important that you pay attention to how that public persona is perceived by others. In general, you shouldn’t put too much weight on the judgment of others, but at the same time, the reality is that applying to university is in large part about presenting yourself in the best light to the people who are evaluating you.

Even if you’re conscientious about your privacy settings, there’s always a chance that the things you post online could become more public than you intended. The internet is never really a private space, and you need to make sure that your overall social media presence reflects the best of what you have to offer.

Besides your own actions, you also need to think about those of others. Even if you behave appropriately online, others may not, so you need to keep an active role in shaping what people might think of you through your social media presence.

What not to do on social media

Every day, the media covers stories of real-world consequences resulting from social media posts. Below, you’ll find a list of some essential guidelines for keeping your social media profiles appropriate and positive as a college-bound high school student. Even if you are already conscientious about your online activity or these tips seem obvious to you, it’s wise to go over this list and double-check your approach.

  • Don’t post, repost, or like materials that are widely considered offensive. If you feel the need to state a controversial opinion, do so maturely, and keep in mind that your stated opinions may affect how others view you.
  • Never use social media to harm, harass, or bully others. Just don’t do it.
  • Watch your language online. Colleges know that people swear sometimes, obviously, but excessive vulgarity will not reflect well upon you.
  • Keep interpersonal conflicts off of social media as much as possible. A polite discussion of politics on your Facebook page, for example, is probably fine, but you need to keep debates or disagreements like these civil and respectful.
  • Don’t post evidence of illegal or unethical behavior — for instance, underage alcohol use, cheating on a test, or vandalism. Posting this type of content can also expose you to negative consequences at school or under the law.
  • Don’t reveal personal or confidential information on social media, both for your own safety and to demonstrate your integrity.
  • Don’t do anything else online that shows questionable judgment or character, or that might make a college wary of inviting you into their community.
  • Don’t be afraid to delete comments from others, untag photos, make posts private, or do whatever else you need to do to keep your social media profiles appropriate.

Of course, this list can’t cover every single possibility, and you’ll have to use your judgment when encountering social media quandaries. Given the impact it can have upon your future, it’s generally best to err on the side of caution and not post any questionable content online.

[bio] Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.

This article was originally published in the 2019 edition of the Rg Scholarship Directory. 

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