Social Media and College Admissions

The following article was originally posted on LinkedIn by our friend Danilo Umali of Game Theory College Planners

A few months ago, I made a concerted effort to learn about social media because I suspected that this new cultural phenomenon was here to stay. When social media began to rear its ugly head with concerned parents and students, I was unable to offer any advice other than "be careful" and "don't get caught doing something stupid." Katherine Cohen from Ivy Wise labels this type of advice as the "grandma test" in her recent article from the Huffington Post. How does the test work? If you wouldn't want your grandmother to see it, don't post it.

I knew that this type of advice was incomplete. I had a student call me just minutes after she Tweeted about her visit to Elon University. She needed advice. Elon Tweeted back and she did not know what to do! I was unable to offer her advice one way or the other. Even before this incident, I suspected that colleges were scanning social media to evaluate prospective students but how far did this type of "review" extend to the admissions process? What about scholarships and financial aid?

About a month ago, I discovered Social Assurity. I came across this organization on Twitter and saw that they specialized in educating students and families in managing their social networking. Instead of starting from an avoidance or "don't get caught" mentality, they approached from a stand point of leverage. Their message? Colleges are looking, but let's give them some insight into your student. Let's help the college discover the best parts of your student and give them an edge with college admissions. I reached out to Alan Katzman, Social Assurity's founder, and he validated a lot of my suspicions and educated me on some really interesting points I never even considered. We even recorded a podcast together and have many more planned on the horizon. I realized that social media is an even bigger deal than I originally thought.

Here is what I know now. We cannot ignore social media. It is definitely not going away. Based on my recent podcast with Alan Katzman, I want to sum up the basic points he made. Maybe by starting here, we can begin to look at social media in a more positive and exciting way. Happy social networking and see you soon somewhere in the Twittersphere?

1. We want a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. These are the social networks where the colleges are looking. Colleges are making a lot of inroads with LinkedIn since they are beginning to correlate job positions and success with the colleges that led these individuals to these careers. It may lay the groundwork for a new ranking system. Many students are going to need LinkedIn to find their next job. Why not start now?

2. According to Alan Katzman,  It's OK to make mistakes. Just because you are "holding a red cup" in a photograph doesn't mean the college is going to blacklist you. Colleges do, however, want to make sure that they are getting "more than test takers." Do your stated passions align with what they are seeing on social media? Are the additional insights gained from your social network reinforce their admissions and scholarship award decisions? Do you come across as racist? Are you intolerant?

3. Not being on social media is a red flag. A large percentage of college applicants are on social media. Not having a presence can introduce more suspicion that can hurt your chances. At the very least, students competing against you will have the advantage of giving colleges more avenues to discover them. 

4. Many parents believe that their students shouldn't be reduced to a test score, an application, and an essay. Well, here is your chance. Leverage social networking as an enhancement to the application process. Give the colleges more opportunities to discover who your student is as a complete and well-rounded applicant.

5. College admissions is one thing and finding a job is another. Colleges and careers go hand in hand. Social networking is no different. Your student needs to embrace social media sooner rather than later. If you think colleges are flocking to social media, what do you think employers are doing? When your student learns to manage his or her social networking, they will have a leg-up when it comes to the job search.

Danny Umali