When in Doubt, Delete: Social Media Accounts and the Admissions Process

It’s safe to say college admissions officers won’t “like” your party pictures.

“What is an admissions officer?”

I ask this every time I present a College Prep Seminar for parents and students throughout the Greater Philadelphia community. The responses have varied: a judge, the gatekeeper, that jerk who loves rejecting applicants.

But the answer is simple: Admissions officers are people. And people accept other people.

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Which brings me to the article recently published by The New York Times about the growing trend of admissions officers scrutinizing an applicant’s social media page and online presence as part of their evaluation process. This is not just a lesson for high school seniors, or juniors for that matter. It is a lesson for all children and all parents.

The world is changing at an alarmingly fast rate. While Facebook is still synonymous with social media (like Kleenex to tissues), there are countless alternatives now on the web: Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, MySpace. And a simple Google search of a student’s name can bring up a host of results.

As the options for teenagers to express their thoughts, opinions, and lives multiply, so do the options for others to find, and judge, those thoughts, opinions and lives. In the age of information access, sometimes young people lose sight of the fact that they themselves may be the information others are trying to access.

Admissions officers are people. People make assumptions about other people. Judgments are quick and inevitable. So what is the bottom line? When in doubt, do not post it. Do not share it. And if you already did, delete it—or at the very least, hide it.

If there is a red cup in a picture, do not share it. Red cups are red flags for alcohol. If an inside joke could be interpreted as offensive to an outsider, it probably is offensive. Your friends may laugh, but the world will not.

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Teenagers will fight back. They will say their parents are being paranoid, annoying, overbearing. Most of the time, they are probably wrong.

High school students work too hard to jeopardize a huge part of their future with a senseless post or picture. And that work is not confined to the classroom and homework. Work involves athletics, volunteering, jobs, and so on. An entire academic career, an entire life, negated by 140 characters or a random snapshot.

Read the Times article. Not every college admissions officer is scouring the web. But what in 2013 may be a little less than one third will increase significantly in the not so distant future. And not only will more admissions officers be searching the web for supplemental information—they will become savvier in their search abilities.

Parents and students spend countless hours and endless energy searching for the secrets to getting into college. But perhaps they should spend a little bit of that time and thought to focusing on what could keep an applicant out of college.

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