how to apply to college

That loud exhalation you heard over the weekend was the sound of tens of thousands of high school students submitting their first round of college applications before early deadlines on November 1. For those of you who have confidently put your personal statements and supplements in the hands of admissions officers at your first-choice colleges, congratulations! You’ve earned a well-deserved break from essay writing and resume building, and may even want to share your status with your friends on Facebook or your followers on Twitter. But before you publish that tweet, take a step back, and think about the door you may be opening.

Engaging with College Social Media Accounts

Colleges and universities are using social media as much as their prospective students. Have you seen the Tumblr for the University of Michigan’s admission office? Or the Twitter account for Harvard? These can be great ways to follow along with your favorite schools—and to learn more about what they offer. But be cautious of over-connecting with schools, particularly small ones. While Harvard (with half a million followers) might not notice that you show up in their mentions every single day, Connecticut College (with just 8,000) surely will. And it’s not just a school behind that account, it’s a real person who might even be reading your application. Every time you comment on a school’s Facebook post or reply to one of their tweets ask yourself, “would I want this comment included as part of my application?” If not, toss it.

Inviting Attention with a Blog or Webpage

I read an admission essay last year about a student’s personal goal to write a blog entry each day of his high school career. The essay was smart and engaging—it showed thoughtfulness, maturity, and wit. Naturally, I was interested in finding the student’s blog to see what more he had to share. When I got there, I was severely disappointed. The blog was no more than a daily sentence or two, typically covering trivial and immature high school minutiae. It was also linked to his Twitter account, where I found tweets containing insensitive and profane material. My opinion of the student plummeted.

Now, admissions officers almost never take the time to research an applicant’s web presence. There are too many applicants, and the web is too big. But when you write an essay about a blog or include an activity entry about a social media effort, you’re inviting an admission officer to seek you out. When you open the door to the web, make sure the content you’re sharing is representative of who you are in the same ways that your application is. It can take just one thoughtless tweet to push you into the deny pile at selective colleges and universities.

Social Media Safeguards

At the end of the day this is not something for you to lose a lot of sleep over. If you didn’t get into the college of your choice, it almost certainly has more to do with the competitiveness of the school’s applicant pool than that picture of you with a red Solo cup in your Facebook profile picture (please change that profile picture immediately, by the way). But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be careful. In the months between the submission of your application and your final enrollment deposit, ratchet up the privacy settings on your social media profiles. Protect your tweets. Make yourself unsearchable to people who are not “friends of friends” on Facebook. Facebook even has a nifty tool in its privacy settings that allows you to see what your profile looks like to a random non-friend, and you can use that feature to see what an admission officer might see when they stumble upon your page. Ask yourself, “Am I cool with this?” If this answer is yes, then you’re fine. If it’s a no, then it’s time for a few small changes. After putting so much time and energy into the college admissions process, these last few steps will ensure your goals aren’t derailed by something totally silly and completely preventable.


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Written by Ian Fisher
Ian Fisher is an experienced educational consultant, part of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Ian received his master’s in policy, organization, and leadership studies from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Prior to joining College Coach, Ian worked as a senior admissions officer at Reed College. Visit our website to learn more about Ian Fisher.