While academic and extracurricular profiles form a crucial part of the college admissions process, students rarely pay as much attention to their social media profiles when working on their applications.

Understandably, this is not a required component of your application and it is highly unlikely that an admissions committee will spend time on your social media profiles in the same way that they would read your essays or evaluate your letters of recommendation. That said, however, a lot of schools are paying more attention to social and digital media as part of the admissions process.

More data equals better decisions

Given the unprecedented amount of data that the Internet gives us access to, this trend is hardly surprising. From a school’s perspective, more data points have two distinct advantages in the admissions process.

Firstly, it allows for a more holistic evaluation of each student, which is why more admissions officers tend to screen the social media profiles of applicants as part of their decision-making process. A 2020 survey by Kaplan Test Prep, found that 36% of admissions officers in the US conduct random checks on applicants’ social media profiles, as compared to just 25% in the previous year. Moreover, in cases where schools did screen applicants’ social media profiles, the information they found was more likely to hinder than help a student’s prospects of being accepted. Forty-two percent of admissions officers who checked social media said that the information they found was positive whereas 58% said that it had a negative impact, which simply reinforces how important it is to actively manage your online presence.

The second way in which students’ online presence is playing a bigger role in admissions is through digital analytics. The Washington Post in 2019 reported that 44 private universities in the United States hire third-party tools to understand the online behavior of prospective students. While 44 is not a huge number, considering the 4,000+ colleges in the US alone, this number is growing. Furthermore, there are a lot of additional data points that schools can, and often do, track with simple, in-built marketing tools. For example, which applicants have signed up for the mailing list? How long do they spend reading the emails, if at all? Did the applicant sign up for a virtual tour or information session, and if so, did they attend and engage? This information can certainly help decide whether or not to admit a student as it could affect admissions yield, which is the percentage of accepted students who actually enrol at the university and naturally, a big priority for most admissions officers. For example, a student who spends time reading a university’s newsletter and has made an effort to attend a virtual information session is more likely to enrol than a student who has not signed up for either. This is because the former student has shown demonstrated interest in the institution. Students’ online behaviours can therefore be used by institutions to assess factors like demonstrated interest and potentially influence the decision-making process, especially if it comes down to choosing between two students who are like-for-like on other aspects of their profile.

How can I be more aware of my online presence as an applicant?

Asking this question itself is a step in the right direction. Even though carefully-managed online profiles will not get you into college, it is important to make sure that your online activities do not do a disservice to your application.

Here are a few simple steps that you can take:

1. Google yourself!

Start by giving your online presence a quick check. Try a few different search combinations — especially if you have a common name and / or surname! For example, “your name + your high school name” or “your name + city that you live in.” Quite often, these will include links to your social media profiles or your school’s website, if there are clubs that you have started or awards that you have won. Spend some time going through each of the links and make sure that the information is accurate and up-to-date. Think of this as your prime digital real-estate!

2. Highlight your most significant accomplishments:

After you are done with your check you may feel like there are some missing gaps in your online profile. Maybe you recently founded a new organization at school, or wrote an article in your local newspaper that you want to draw more attention to. If this is the case, you could think about creating new channels to showcase those achievements. With platforms like Wix and Squarespace, it is easy to create a personal website or blog. Alternatively, you could turn to more professional social networks like LinkedIn or even more specialized platforms like Behance for graphic designers, Github for coders or Medium for writers to highlight your best work.

3. Check your social media privacy settings:

Is your TikTok or Instagram profile public or do you individually check and approve each new follower? If it is public, make sure that you are comfortable with the possibility of an admissions officer (and further down the line, potential employers) seeing the content that you post here. Another area to look at is the posts that you are tagged in, which are often viewable to people looking at your profile, both on Instagram and Facebook. Luckily, these are parts of your profile that you have control over, so you can spend some time filtering out the posts that you do not want other people to see.

4. Think before you post!

While most of us spend hours deciding what to post on our own social media profiles, we don’t think half as much about the comments that we post other people’s profiles or on online communities and discussion forums. This is not to suggest that you shouldn’t engage in conversations online, but that you should be thoughtful in your approach, especially in an era of Internet trolls and cyberbullies where discussions can quickly turn hostile. Moreover, the content that isn’t on your profile is out of your control, which means that once you post it, it is likely to stay there forever!

5. Follow, like, and engage with your top universities:

While you work on cleaning up your social media act, why not use this time constructively and show the universities you are applying to that you are genuinely interested in them. We have talked about the importance of showing demonstrated interest in a previous blog post and the various media through which you can do this, but engaging with your top choice schools by signing up for their mailing lists and then actually opening and reading their emails is definitely a good place to start.

Learning to manage your online image can go a long way, especially once you start applying for internships and jobs in the real world, where prospective employers are more likely to scan your digital presence. But it is equally important to not get too fixated on this aspect of your application, or worse, get so absorbed in the virtual world that you forget about the real one. After all, it is great to have your own website, but only if you have meaningful content to fill it with! Your first priority should therefore be to build a strong application profile, both academic and extracurricular, and then think about how to digitize your achievements.

The college application process can be overwhelming and may seem especially uncertain this year. If you find yourself wondering about how this is going to affect your admission to your dream college, get in touch.

We will continue to share more ideas on how to improve your application, so be sure to watch this space for more updates!