Socially Confused: Why College Applicants Should Ignore Mainstream Social Media Advice

In the days and weeks following November’s NYT story “They Loved Your G.P.A. Then They Saw Your Tweets,” we have been barraged with articles purportedly advising college applicants on how to clean up their social media prior to inspection by college admissions. The major entry in this category is LinkedIn’s recent post “The Role of Social Media in College Admissions.” This article is representative of dozens of similar articles and will likely cause confusion among the thousands of college applicants looking for relevant and rational social media management advice.

First, by force of habit, these articles include the infamous “Grandmother Test” whereby applicants are advised they should not post anything that would offend their grandmothers. This advice is about as relevant to a teen as being told to wear the same clothes as their grandmother to avoid standing out in a crowd. Colleges and universities are not known to be bastions of conservatism and the thought of having their student body dressed in grandma jeans is anathema to these institutions. To the contrary, teens need to be themselves without any compromise and their social media activities should genuinely reflect who they are regardless of whether Grandma approves.

Each year, colleges seek to assemble a vibrant and safe student community and social media is a great tool for teens to convey their interests, individualism and leadership skills to others. The real challenge for most teens is that their projected social media persona is driven by peer pressure and is not at all reflective of who they genuinely are or how they want to or should be perceived.

Second, these articles advise teens to double check their social media privacy settings. Let’s be frank if someone wants to find something a teen has posted on social media, privacy settings (and we are really only talking about Facebook here) won’t be of much help. Anyway, teens are no longer posting aggressive or suggestive posts to Facebook because Mom and Dad have fully invaded that space. The real action is now taking place on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr while the extreme action is likely taking place on Snapchat and teen-based messaging apps like Kik. Privacy settings in this context essentially have no relevance and it is now really just an issue of being found.

Third, in an effort to identify the 31% of schools that Kaplan Test Prep reports proactively look at social media as part of their admissions process, many writers have asked local college admissions departments whether they check applicant social media. These colleges all seem to provide essentially the same answer. “We are way too busy to look at social media” but then add “however, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.” What these authors/interviewers fail to ask about college admissions is whether their schools monitor social media traffic on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The answer is of course they do. So whenever a teen tweets to a school or uses a hashtag with that school’s name, that school will see it. More than just seeing the tweet, the school will also have full access to that student’s entire Twitter history including past tweets, photos, and followers. This same logic applies to Instagram, Facebook, and other monitored social media platforms.

With that said, here are the basic steps every college applicant should take:

  1. Get a LinkedIn profile and follow schools you plan on applying to

  2. Get a proper GMail address and complete your Google+ profile

  3. Start a blog highlighting your activities and interests

  4. Know your audience and your academic goals

  5. Manage your social media towards someone who does not know you

  6. Scan your sites for evidence of drug use, excessive alcohol abuse, aggressive or overtly sexual behavior and any signs of social intolerance.

  7. Make your social media easy to find.

How to effectively manage social media is not a “one size fits all” solution. By definition, the process is totally driven by the individual. It is often difficult for a seventeen-year-old to understand these concepts as their judgment is not yet fully developed (which is one of the reasons why they are going to college in the first place). Finding an expert who can help navigate this thought process through a detailed methodology is essential for making sure social media becomes an asset to help these teens achieve their academic and professional goals. Social media becomes an asset when it is viewed as a modern-day holograph. True, tailored, dynamic and engaging.

For more information contact Alan Katzman at



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