Social Media and Applying to College: What to Know

We live in 2018—it’s a pretty interesting time to be alive for a number of reasons, but it’s a particularly interesting time to be applying to college because of technology. Namely, social media. We get a lot of questions from (mostly) parents asking us what our best social media practices are. The answer is pretty simple: the best social media presence is no social media presence.

We understand that this conversation is tough to have with your child for a number of reasons. 1) you don’t want to nag them about yet another thing, 2) this is a big ask, and 3) they might erupt and it could get ugly. We know all of this so we advise parents to really think about what your approach, tone, and goals are for this conversation. It won’t be the easiest conversation you’ve ever had, and we know that your child might yell at you because they know everything and you know nothing blah blah blah. But here’s why you need to tell your kid to delete their social media profiles:

Being offline means that no one can track them down

If you’re not online, then no one can figure out anything about you. This is a good thing. We work with our students so that they stand out and their applications truly shine in a unique light. That work is completely undermined when a college finds something (really, anything) out via your Instagram. Your kid can be the president of 5 clubs, publish research with professors, and create a bunch of apps, but all of that will be for nothing if they are seeking validation through social media. The admissions officers at Harvard are looking for any reason to reject someone. Put simply: don’t be trackable, traceable, or findable. Delete the account. The best social media profile is one that does not exist.

Don’t ease up when they tell you that they’ll just make their profile “Private”

The follow up to this claim that we lay down for students and their parents quite often is: “OK, but what if we just switch the profiles to private?” No. Full stop. The reason why this won’t work is that it’s a false sense of security. It’s been proven time and time again that having a false sense of security actually causes humans to act more recklessly. And social media is no exception. If a student has the veiled idea that “no one is watching,” then they are more likely to post something even more inappropriate than if their profile was public. We’ve seen it happen. We’ve seen it backfire. Harvard knows how to navigate social media just as well as your student does. Some would argue they're better at navigating it than your 15-year-old. Screenshots, “finstas,” (fake Instagram accounts), and the vast array of news sources make it so that it’s very easy to publicize any image that might set off controversy. Don’t let it be you or your kid.

There’s no such thing as a “good” social media presence

If you are already monetizing your social media, this blog post isn't for you. If you have millions of followers and an income to match and you're do you. But, if you're not, and most of you are not: 

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat…they are all inherently social, silly, and meant for fun. No matter how hard you try to curate your feed, there’s no such thing as a “professional” or “good” social media presence. The only possible excuse that we can think of is if you are a published, working, professional photographer or published cookbook author and use Instagram to show your work and/or food off. But even in that case we would say: “Take it down and direct the colleges to your professional website.” The phrase “good social media presence” is an oxymoron.

Anything they post can and will be used against them

These colleges are as competitive as ever to get into and we might be the first to tell you this, but it’s true: they’re looking for any reason to toss your application in the “Reject” pile. This certainly includes an unsavory social media post or article that’s cropped up online about you that in any way, shape, or form might put the institution’s reputation in harm’s way. Again, remember, screenshots exist, and colleges and universities aren’t stupid—they know how to get the information that they want. Don’t let them discount your entire application and high school career that you worked so hard on just because you were out with friends and posted something. That would be a truly silly reason to get rejected from your dream school.

Let us know if you have any questions or need guidance talking to your student about these things. Social media can be a particularly sensitive topic, so we understand that this conversation might come at a price (read: yelling and screaming). And as always, call or email us if you have any questions.