Most high school students have grown up with the internet and social media and feel as comfortable interacting with others online as they do in real life. Nevertheless, students aren’t always aware of how their online activity can impact their college prospects. CAA has a few tips on avoiding common pitfalls and making the most of your online presence.

We are often freer with our online interactions, which leads many people to say or do things online that they would never consider doing in person. As countless well-publicized cases have shown, one casual or impulsive post can have real-life consequences. As they say, “The internet is forever,” so always consider what you are posting before you hit send. In some cases, a profanity-laden Facebook post or Tweet may seem pretty safe, but what if an admissions officer at your top-choice college happens to see it? You may feel fairly anonymous, but Twitter is a public platform and Facebook privacy settings can’t keep everyone from viewing your posts.

If you’re a high school student interested in applying to college, consider what your online presence says about you. With your current privacy settings, who can see your posts? Which of your accounts have your real name attached to them and can potentially be found by a curious admissions officer?

The first thing to consider is your name.  Sure the Twitter handle @CuddlyPrincess5SOSFan5Ever is fun, but it may not leave the best impression on potential colleges. Now is a good time to change your handle to something a little more unassuming. While you’re at it, consider the pictures within your accounts. It isn’t necessary to formally pose for every photo, but you do want to avoid images that could be offensive or off-putting.

Next, look at your content. If you were a stranger scrolling through your account, what impression would you get of the person? Profanity-laced, suggestive, or overly confrontational posts probably need to be deleted entirely. Beyond that, in what ways do your accounts reflect your activities and interests? The types of things you choose to share and post will tell their own story about what is important to you.

Finally, think about how you can actually maximize your social media-savvy to catch a college’s attention. Schools are very aware how much of your life happens online, and most of them have made an effort to be present there as well. Your top choice college very likely has a Twitter account, Tumblr blog, Facebook page, etc. Track those accounts down, follow them, like their posts, and read the information they give out. Not only is this a great way for you to learn about deadlines, visit days, and admissions requirements, it’s also another way for you to demonstrate your interest in the college. However, try not to comment on every photo and post. Simply scrolling through their comments and replies will give you an idea of the kinds of questions they are willing to respond to. Colleges also search for indirect mentions. Tweeting something like, “Just submitted my application to ABC University!” is another way of showing the college just how excited you are about their school. 

Your online profile could very well be a potential college’s first impression of you. It’s vital to make sure that your digital persona is as impressive as your real-life one. Seniors going through the admissions process – and even underclassmen gearing up for it – would do well to manage their interactions online as carefully as they do in the physical world.