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Friend or Foe? Social Media and College Admissions

Snapchat is still teenagers’ number one social media app surpassing Instagram, with upstart TikTok coming up fast. Whatever the social media platform, students must use these apps wisely, being cautious of what they post, like, and share. Besides parents, friends, and employers, college admission officers are watching.

Fair Game in College Admissions

Kaplan’s 2020 survey of college admissions officers shows that a growing percentage of admissions officers think that it’s “fair game” for them to visit applicants’ social media pages to help them decide who gets admitted. Sixty-five percent of the 300+ college admissions officers surveyed see no issue with social media being part of the admissions evaluation. Of admissions officers who have checked out an applicant’s social media footprint, 17 percent say they do so “often”, up from just 11 percent five years ago.

Negative Effects of Social Media Content on College Admissions

Of those that check social media, 42 percent say what they found has had a positive impact on prospective students; however, 58 percent say that what they found had a negative impact – a huge jump over last year’s survey of 32 percent.

Students need to be careful and strategic about what they decide to share. For example, how might an admissions officer react to seeing a photo of the student in a large group of friends, not social distancing or wearing masks?

In today’s climate of heightened social justice advocacy, students who feel the need to state a controversial opinion, should do so maturely, and keep in mind that their stated opinions may affect how others view them. An article by the New York Times this past summer details several examples of student’s admission and scholarship offers being rescinded because of their posts. If it’s an emotional topic, best not to post it.

3 Strategic Ways to Use Social Media

Social media is the world teenagers inhabit. Here are three ways students can use social media to positively affect their college admission opportunities.

Posts Reflecting Student’s Passions

A student that loves playing in their school’s band should consistently show posts of that activity. A passion for cooking? Share posts of trying new recipes or perfecting familiar ones. Is art a constant creative outlet? I once had a student who used spray paint on large canvases in their backyard to create images of the solar system, the ocean, and landscapes to relieve stress and focus on something other than APs, IBs, and SATs. Pictures of the student in the process of creating then holding their finished canvas showed a more nuanced side of this future bioengineer.

Similarly, posts about community service projects, mission trips, volunteerism, and school clubs can show admission officers a student who will engage in their campus community as well.

Values, Character, and Authenticity

A student’s social media pages will share what they value whether they intend it to or not. Alan Katzman, President of Social Assurity a company he founded in 2013 to help students harness social media to curate digital portraits that reflect their true character and potential, reflects:

“Social media should highlight and validate the applicant’s essays and personal statement. It should be a social media resume. When it does, the reviewing admissions officer gets confirmation of the same character traits, experiences, and activities. This speaks to authenticity and credibility – which should lead to a higher likability quotient.”

Demonstrated Interest

Social media can also be a useful tool for demonstrating interest to colleges during the admissions process.

As more universities once again begin offering in-person campus tours, students should take pictures then post it on their social media app of choice with a positive comment about the university.

Highly Evolved 8-Second Filter

Gen Z is said to have a shorter attention span than Millennials – eight seconds is all you have. They also have a highly practical mindset, can focus, sort through, and evaluate high volumes of information.

Ask that they spend eight seconds reading this article.

They will understand the practicality of curating their social media presence to positively reflect their values, passions, and character.


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This blog was written Janice Royal, MA. She is the Founder and CEO of Royal College Consulting.

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