How Colleges use Social Media to Evaluate Applicants

As college admissions get more competitive, the difference between an acceptance and rejection can be miniscule, perhaps as small as 140 characters.

Social media is now a staple of the way we communicate, not just for young people, but for business professionals, soccer moms, and, hey, even Grandma is getting on Facebook nowadays. The cat memes are just too much to resist, I suppose.

The internet also provides a more anonymous, impersonal form of interaction, making is easier to adopt an alter ego online that may not be the person you want to make a first impression, especially to, say, an admissions officer come college application season.

It’s true that “Googling” an applicant’s name is something that happens more often now. If an admissions officer wants more information on you, they are likely to search your name to see if they can find you on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or one of the zillions of other social networks out there. Retweeting something raunchy, lowbrow, or littered with foul language could be enough to get your application thrown in the metaphorical waste basket (it’s all digital now—do we even need paper?).

However, before you make moves to delete sweet little Sally’s Twitter account, consider this: social media can work both ways. Just as easily as your latest status update can send a negative impression, it can also surprise the reader by showcasing a cause or subject you find interesting and are passionate about – and score you major bonus points in the process.

Consider this scenario: an admissions officer is looking at the applications of two candidates for one spot. Both are pre-med, members of the honor society, varsity athletes, yada yada yada. Fairly comparable in many areas, the admissions officer decides to dig a little deeper. Both applicants have Twitter accounts. Applicant A’s feed is mostly retweets of inspirational quotes, a couple Bible verses, and some harmlessly uninteresting conversations with friends. Nothing special there. Applicant B, however, was involved the night before in a hashtag conversation about challenges facing healthcare in developing countries. She follows change makers in that industry and uses her social media as a source of exploration for her interests. Without a doubt, I’m taking Applicant B over A.

Social media can be that persuasive; it’s a powerful new tool we need to teach our children to take advantage of by showing them the possibilities out there for using technology to create positive changes in their lives. It’s a huge value added I don’t think many parents of teenagers realize is even out there.

I think teenagers get overwhelmed with the messages about being cautious online and careful what they are “putting out there” at the expense of teaching them that they can be using that technology in amazing ways to connect to amazing people and ideas they would otherwise have little access to.

So there’s the challenge. How can you turn that cell phone that’s already in their hands (and under their pillows) 24 hours a day into something positive, not only in terms of the impression it will make when they apply to college, but years before that, by unlocking the opportunities within the networks where they already spend so much time.

By all means, monitor their networking for sure. After all, these are teenagers and they are bound to do a few stupid things every now and then. But the fact is that technology is not going anywhere, so show them the alternative. It’s more than just a way to pass the time by keeping up to date on the minutia of others’ lives: it’s a way to explore interests and ideas, grow and learn, and that’s a pretty cool thing, hashtags and all.

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