Do colleges check social media before admitting students? Yes, college and university admissions departments box check teens and 20+ through publicly available social media platforms. Whether they actually do, however, is another question.
About 65% of admissions officers view social media as “fair game” when assessing potential enrollees, according to a survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep in 2020. That said, only 36% of 313 officers surveyed said having actually taken the time to browse the candidates’ TikTok, Instagram and other accounts.
Here’s what to know about why colleges are watching your social media and how to tailor your feeds to help, not hurt, your admissions chances.
Yes, colleges can view the public version of your social media accounts, but they don’t have some sort of government-like secret power to access your private information. It’s much more likely that your social media behavior will only come to their attention if it’s causing a stir.
For example, in 2017, Harvard University rescinded offers of admission to 10 incoming freshmen when it was discovered they were sharing hateful memes via a private Facebook group chat. And in 2019, Harvard withdrew its offer of admission to a notable student who had made racist remarks in private chats and Google Docs two years earlier.
|Admissions officers who view social media as ‘fair game’
|● 2020: 65%
Barring noticeable online behavior, admissions officers are more concerned with factors such as your transcripts and standardized test scores, as well as your college application essay. But while schools want students who can perform in the classroom, they also want people who will be a positive part of a diverse yet safe campus.
It’s not hard to figure out what types of digital offenses could harm your chances of college admission or financial aid. But here are two types of behavior to avoid:
Evidence of underage drinking or other illegal behavior
There’s nothing wrong with lots of pictures from high school parties. They might actually help you. On the one hand, admissions officers want to enroll well-rounded students who have a social life.
On the other hand, photos can show that you are comfortable interacting with different types of peers. Just make sure the images put you in a positive light and can’t be misinterpreted.
Insensitive or offensive language or content
Yes, college campuses are ripe for debate, even protest, and admissions officers won’t necessarily shy away from opinionated students who have a platform. But beware of offending someone else’s opinions in the process of your social media post. Words or images that denigrate someone else should be considered prohibited.
A test not to cross the line: Would you share this experience or opinion during a face-to-face meeting with the admissions officer? If not, you have your answer.
To be on the safe side, also consider avoiding posts that are meant to be funny but could be misunderstood. You might be punished by perception, not reality.
|Ways to limit how colleges view your social media
Adjust privacy settings to limit who can see your content
Anonymize your account so colleges can’t associate it with your name
Erase your accounts for any language, imagery, or information that might put you in a bad light, including:
Ask parents and others to browse your account for anything you might have missed
When applying to colleges or graduate schools, your first thought might be to check your privacy settings on popular platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
While a safe bet, consider your social media profiles as ways to tell a positive story to admissions officers. In fact, according to the Kaplan survey, 42% of admissions officers who check social media profiles said it had a positive impact on student applications.
Here are five ways to improve your social media presence:
Your college application, with well-written essays and murderous recommendation letters, should present you in the best possible light. There’s no reason why your tweets shouldn’t be too. And there are ways to do that beyond posting with perfect spelling and grammar.
If you wrote a college essay about helping your younger siblings through tough times, for example, an admissions officer might be looking for photos of them on your Facebook profile. Likewise, your online profiles can be good places to post photos of your successes, such as receiving academic awards or playing for your high school sports teams.
It might be wise to review your past photos on these platforms as well. You might find one or two that would make an admissions officer wonder if you’re the same candidate who nailed their paper application.
Bonus Tip: Remember that your profile pictures are probably the first things colleges will look for on social media. If yours is professional but age-appropriate, you might make a great first impression.
Liking and following your favorite schools’ social media profiles is a smart move. Take it a step further by finding appropriate ways to engage with schools on these platforms. You can comment on a school’s post or tag the school during your college visit.
Beware of going out of your way to “reach” your school on social media if you are still viewed by others. The admissions officer at your “target” school might be put off. You also wouldn’t want to make fun of your “security” school.
You can also demonstrate your interest in a particular major. If you are being considered by a university’s college of commerce, for example, an admissions officer might like to know that you follow the best financial experts online.
Your college essay is a way to let schools know your deepest desires and strongest passions. But your social media profiles can also be a way to show your interest in, well, anything that interests you. You could be one of the following, to name a few examples:
- Aspiring science student tweeting the latest NASA news
- Teenage journalist linking to her latest blog post
- Musician posting a video of his weekend concert
Enjoying your favorite hobby online gives schools another view of who you are beyond your grades.
Like negative impressions, positive impressions can be gleaned from your Instagram account and Facebook photo galleries. So don’t worry about having to hide them from school admission services.
On the other hand, be diligent about how you might appear in photos of friends, especially on platforms that allow users to tag people without their consent. You wouldn’t want an admissions officer to find a particular picture and get the wrong impression.
If you are applying to college in January of your senior year of high school, it may take a few months for an admissions officer to make a final decision. This would be the period, between January and March, during which your social media profiles could be examined.
If this strengthens your admissions case, use this time to be your own online advocate. Connect the dots for an admissions officer who might be on the fence. If you focused your application essay on a senior project, for example, post updates on its progress.
You can also use your profiles to document your search for college scholarships. Posting applications and awards could show colleges that you are serious about finding your way to campus.
If you haven’t applied to any schools yet, consider including a link to, say, your LinkedIn profile in your college application. This way, you can also direct admissions services to your social media platform of choice.
Bonus Tip: Be aware that your school may also use a social media-like mobile app called ZeeMee that connects schools with their prospective students. This could be another way to share your story.
When you read that 10 prospective Harvard students have been told they are no longer welcome in the Class of 2021, your gut reaction might be to shut down all of your social media accounts. Less dramatically, you can opt to restrict public access to accounts.
Depending on your situation, these may be the wisest steps to take. But consider that you are in control of your narrative.
If you close your accounts, you lose a way to make your case for entering a particular college.
So consider turning your social media feeds into something positive for admissions officers instead. It might just push you over the top and help you gain acceptance.
And if you plan to work during your studies, consider clean up your Google search results and social media pages to impress potential employers as well.