Most high schoolers today have some form of social media, but how does what you post online impact your college applications? Social media can make a significant impact on your application, either positive or negative, depending on how you use it. Here, we answer some of the most common questions we get about the relationship between social media and the college admissions process.
Many families now have questions about the impact of an applicant’s social media presence on their college admissions. The typical advice is simply to be cautious about what you post on social media as you never know who may be offended by or misinterpret something you post. However, social media can also present a unique way of showcasing your work and connecting with others, which could make a positive impact on your application.
Even if it’s not explicitly stated on a college’s admissions site as part of the “holistic” college admissions process, it seems as if more and more admissions officers are using social media to get a more personal look at each candidate. In a 2020-2021 survey, Kaplan reported that 36 percent of college admissions officers say they look at applicants’ social media profiles to learn more about them — and 58 percent of those who do check social media said the contents had an adverse effect on the applicant.
But don’t race to delete your accounts just yet! Many admissions officers in this survey also said that more students’ social media profiles had a positive impact than in years before. So think about the ways that you can use social media to positively influence your community and share your work in a productive way. Assuming your admissions officer is looking at your profiles, how can you use social media to amplify your student brand? What kind of applicant do you want them to see?
Here are some common questions we receive about the role of social media in the college admissions process.
How can students leverage social media for the college admission process?
As discussed above, if admissions officers are interested in your application, they'll likely look you up online. Our recommendation is to go through your social media accounts before the beginning of the application season and make sure that nothing possibly compromising is publicly visible. As usual, the typical taboos apply here — alcohol, smoking, partying, nudity, etc. — but you may also consider hiding any potentially controversial or questionable posts. And if your social media profiles aren't used to showcase any of your accomplishments, it may be a good idea to make them private or anonymous, at least temporarily. If you wouldn’t say it on TV, don’t post it on social media!
That said, social media can be leveraged as a great tool to show admissions officers the impact of your activities or projects are undertaken throughout high school. Building an online presence is, in fact, crucial when it comes to building a stand-out profile. We always tell our students that the best way to validate their projects, organizations, or non-profits is to seek third-party recognition and validation. That can be done, for instance, by gaining media coverage or obtaining testimonials from experts.
One way to make all of this third-party coverage visible is to showcase it on social media — and not just on LinkedIn. Instagram is also a great place to tell your story and show your accomplishments in a digest format to admissions officers. Even platforms like TikTok and Twitter can help you garner a following and gain recognition quickly for your work. Online visibility is a key component of the admissions process now. Students should use social platforms to show who they are, the fantastic things they've accomplished, and ultimately make admissions officers' work a little easier.
What kinds of things should I be posting on social media before applying to college?
Above, we mentioned building a “student brand” — here is a Forbes article where H&C CEO Pierre Huguet breaks down what this concept means in full. Basically, since high grades and stellar test scores can no longer guarantee admission to elite colleges, students need to position themselves as experts in their field of interest by pursuing impact extracurricular activities in line with their passions, interests, and talents.
The possibilities are endless, and using social media either to showcase these interests or to find new opportunities can make building a student brand easier. For instance, use it to promote an event you piloted in your community or a business you started, or you can fundraise for a local nonprofit. You could even go viral for some of your efforts and gain a following, but just remember that more visibility will come with more scrutiny.
Since nothing you are required to do in high school is going to help you stand out, students should try to find ways to pursue projects that motivate them and, as much as possible, try to find ways to gain public recognition and scale their activities. Position yourself as a trailblazer, and conveying that position through coherent branding and storytelling across multiple platforms, especially social media, is critical in this highly competitive process.
Can social media lead to my acceptance being rescinded?
There have been cases of students having their acceptance revoked after the fact because of subsequent social media use or the discovery of past posts that call their character into question. For example, in 2017, Harvard revoked admission offers for 10 students after their posts in a Facebook group, which included insulting remarks about members of various racial and ethnic groups, were discovered by admissions officers. And there have been more high-profile cases of rescinded admissions offers after something offensive was discovered on students’ social media pages and even in private chats or forums.
However, these cases almost exclusively occur when a student posts something explicitly racist, sexist, homophobic, hateful, threatening, or even criminal, meaning that this is not a common phenomenon. But it has sparked a debate about students’ rights to free speech and the fairness of evaluating a student’s personal life in college admissions. Still, it’s always a good idea to scrub through all of your social media profiles just to make sure there’s nothing that could be potentially misconstrued and to be extra careful in the months between a college acceptance and the start of freshman year.
Social media is what you make of it, and in the college admissions process, you can use it to your advantage if you know what you’re doing. And in the meantime, you can follow us on Instagram for more college admissions advice!