Unfollowed, Blocked, Reported: How to clean up your social media in time for college applications

As seniors get ready for their final days as high school students, they also prepare to pass the torch to members of the current junior class.  For juniors, this point marks the beginning of the always-exciting college application process, with all stress and tests included.  However, many colleges are choosing to add a new kind of admissions test to their application process.  Don’t worry – it’s not another essay, nor is it an additional standardized test.  This time, colleges are after students’ Twitter accounts.

Now that social media has become such an integral part of society, a handful of colleges across America have admitted to hiring staff members whose job it is to patrol the social networks of prospective students.  That vacation picture you just shared on Facebook?  Sure, your friends saw it.  But so did the college admissions officers.

Creating and maintaining a professional presence online is becoming more and more of an important factor in applying for both colleges and careers, but the growing number of social media sites tends to makes constant monitoring an increasingly daunting task.  Don’t panic and delete yourself from the virtual community; instead, take a look at these tips for creating a college-ready persona online.

Filter your likes (and your life) through Facebook

If you’re one of the many of today’s college-bound students who created their profiles during middle school, it may be due time to take a trip into the past and ‘unlike’ some unnecessary pages.  Colleges might not appreciate seeing that you’re a fan of “LOLihateschoolxD,” or “I hate when I actually do my homework and the teacher doesn’t even collect it,” even if you’re unable to remember clicking ‘like’ in sixth grade.  Groups and pages that include sexist themes, racial slurs, or inappropriate content should be deleted from your profile for obvious reasons.

Furthermore, the information you choose to provide in your ‘about me’ should be up-to-date, and relevant to your real interests.  Even if you’re an avid fan of Harry Potter, saying that you’re a proud Gryffindor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry doesn’t paint the picture of a serious, professional student that many schools are after.  Instead, show your pride by checking in with the schools you’ve actually attended.  It’ll pay off in the long run.

Search Yourself on Google

You really never know what others might be posting about you online, or who might be sharing your name.  The first step to determining your online presence is pretty simple – just type your name into the search bar and see what comes up.

Don’t stop at web results either – a picture can be worth a thousand words.  Images, videos, and even news links can tell you what others will see when they search for you on the inter-webs.  If you find something you’d rather others not see, don’t be afraid to contact the website administrator and request that they remove it for your sake.  The same goes for friends and family; if you don’t want colleges to see a picture that someone else took of you, simply ask that they take it offline.  If someone doesn’t want to comply, you always have the option of removing individual posts or pictures by selecting ‘report’ in the dropdown menu.

Privacy is key

Ever noticed the gear-shaped icon at the top of the Facebook news feed?  That button leads to the privacy settings – it lets you control who sees what in regards to pictures, status updates, and even music selections.  When you first join Facebook, all of your privacy settings are defaulted to public, meaning that anyone, just about anywhere, can see everything you post.

If you’re a bit bothered by the fact that your profile could be a public spectacle, you’re not alone.  However, changing privacy settings is fairly simple.  By choosing the option, “Who sees my stuff?” Facebook allows you to choose from four privacy plans: public, friends, only me, or custom.  With the custom setting, you can even create an exclusive list of people who can (or cannot) see what post online.

LinkedIn is your new best friend

A rising star in the social media world, LindedIn is the network for professionals, connecting thousands of people, businesses, and even universities, across the world.  Even if you’re not looking to make business connections as a high school student, LinkedIn can provide a starting point for lifelong relationships with colleges, private businesses, and even larger corporations that you may someday be working for.

Remember the tip about typing your name into Google?  When you look up a name using online search engines, LindedIn tends to appear among the first set of results, meaning that it’ll be one of the first websites that colleges will see when they’re looking for you.  By creating your profile now, you can establish a concrete foundation on which to build up a positive social media presence, while getting an additional jump start on career networking.

The new mantra: Think before you tweet (or post, blog, pin, hashtag, etc.)

Remember, if it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever.  If you’ve got something negative to say, whether it’s about your school, your friends, or even your city, it’s probably best that you keep it to yourself.  Of course, with Twitter’s quick-news nature and 140-character limit, it’s easier than ever to speak what’s on your mind; but sometimes what’s on your mind would remain better off unsaid.  Before you post, keep in mind all who could be affected by your words or pictures.  If you have any second thoughts, it’s probably best that you keep it offline.

According to The New York Times, 31% of 381 replying colleges reported having visited applicants’ social media profiles before making acceptance decisions.  Moreover, 30% reported to having discovered information that negatively impacted the applicant’s chances of being accepted.

If you’re looking to make a positive impression during the college application process, be smart about what you’re posting online.

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