February 9, 2024

Navigating the Social Media Tightrope: How students’ online presence can influence their college admission

Be sure to check out the suggested Huddle question at the bottom of this article to discuss this important topic with your students in class, if you feel it is appropriate.

Did you know that students’ social media activity might be under scrutiny when it comes to college admissions? According to a recent survey conducted by Kaplan, 28% of college admissions officers actively look at applicants’ social media profiles. 

Even more striking is the fact that 67% of these officers believe it’s fair game to consider social media when making admissions decisions. Because students’ lives are increasingly intertwined with social media platforms, it’s no surprise that colleges are taking a peek behind the curtain to learn more. It’s a new frontier in the college application process, and understanding its implications is crucial for aspiring students.

Why colleges look at social media

So why do 28% of college admission officers think it is important that social media be considered part of the application? To start, if a link to a student’s social media profile is included in their application materials, admissions officers might see it as an opportunity to gain additional insights into their character and interests. 

The college advising and marketing company Social Assurity provides students with the tools necessary to make themselves stand out to admissions officers. Its founder, Alan Katzman, points out that social media can be viewed as a supplementary essay that offers a more personal glimpse into who a student is. Uniquely, this insight can also exist outside of the constraints of traditional application materials. In a world where the 500-word limit of a college essay can feel restrictive, social media provides a canvas for students to paint a more holistic picture of themselves.

Social media also serves as a platform for students to showcase their accomplishments, passions, and extracurricular activities. Much like a resume, a student’s social media profile can showcase all that makes them unique and appealing as a college applicant. It can highlight some of their most impressive achievements and showcase their involvement in their extracurriculars. Whether sharing volunteer experiences, showcasing artistic talents, or documenting leadership roles, social media offers a space for students to curate their personal brand and distinguish themselves from their peers. 

Beth Wiser, the admissions director at the University of Vermont, describes a circumstance where a student did just that. Showcasing her passion for organic gardening on social media, this particular unnamed student was able to stand out to the admission committee. Wiser explains that this student’s social media “showed a level of engagement that made the committee feel she had a strong sense of her future plans.

Positive and negative social media profiles

Of course, not all social media profiles are created equal. Just as a well-crafted resume can boost their chances of admission, a poorly managed social media presence can have the opposite effect. Admissions officers are not just looking for accolades and achievements but also assessing their character and judgment. A profile with inappropriate content, offensive language, or questionable behavior can raise red flags and undermine their credibility as a potential candidate. A recent Survey by Inside Higher Ed noted that private colleges, particularly, were more likely to rescind acceptances based on social media.

On the flip side, a thoughtfully curated social media profile can leave a positive impression and enhance the strength of an application. Students who frequently utilize their platforms to highlight their passions, share meaningful experiences, and engage with communities that align with their interests demonstrate responsible online behavior. This can go a long way in shaping a favorable image in the eyes of admissions officers. By showcasing their creativity, leadership, and commitment to navigating social media in high-character ways, students can leverage social media as a tool for personal branding and differentiate themselves in the competitive college admissions process.

The importance of playing to your core online

As the lines between offline and online lives continue to blur, it can be essential for prospective college students to recognize the impact of their online presence. While social media can be a powerful tool for self-expression and networking, it also comes with a level of responsibility. Every post, comment, like, and share contributes to a student’s online identity, which can have lasting consequences. Employers, college admissions officers, and scholarship committees review applicants’ social media profiles to gain insight into their character and behavior beyond traditional application materials. Additionally, students should be aware that even deleted posts or comments can leave traces online, as screenshots and archives may preserve them forever. So, empowering students to play to their core online by practicing discretion and thoughtfulness in all interactions on social media can help fuel their future success.

As students navigate the college admissions process, it is important that they take the time to audit their social media profiles and ensure they reflect the best version of themselves. Students can use these platforms strategically to showcase strengths, values, and interests. As is the case with almost every aspect of social media, posts, likes, and comments contribute to their own narrative. In the eyes of admissions officers, this narrative is often the one that is open to being evaluated.

Here are some ways students can bolster their online presence in the face of college admissions: 

  1. Showcase Academic Achievements: Highlight academic accomplishments, such as awards, projects, or research, to demonstrate your commitment to learning and intellectual curiosity.
  2. Highlight Extracurricular Involvement: Showcase your involvement in extracurricular activities, clubs, sports, or volunteer work to illustrate your leadership skills, teamwork abilities, and dedication outside the classroom.
  3. Demonstrate Passion and Interest: Share content related to your passions and interests, whether it’s art, music, science, or social justice, to showcase your unique personality and what makes you stand out as a candidate.
  4. Cultivate a Positive Online Presence: Maintain a positive and professional online image by posting respectful and appropriate content avoiding controversial topics or negative behavior that could reflect poorly on you in the eyes of admissions officers.
  5. Use Social Media as a Learning Tool: Share content demonstrating your engagement with academic or industry-related topics, such as articles, discussions, or projects, to show your intellectual curiosity and eagerness to learn beyond the classroom.

All in all, the transition from high school to college can be daunting for anyone. But when empowered to navigate social media and tech in positive, high-character ways, students will have a virtual online resume that could help them get into their dream college. If you’re an educator with students applying to college or thinking about starting to apply, check out this #WinAtSocial Lesson on planning a smooth transition into college life and building a supportive network around you.

#WinAtSocial Huddle Question
Huddle with your students
Social media can help or hinder our college application process. Have you ever posted an accomplishment on social media? If so, share what you posted with the class and why you chose to do so.

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in empowering students by understanding students. Through #WinAtSocial, our gamified, peer-to-peer learning platform, we equip students, educators, and families to navigate their social world – in the classroom and beyond, online and offline – in healthy, high-character ways. Our unique, student-respected approach empowers and equips, rather than scares and restricts. We incorporate timely topics about social media, tech use, and current events that are impacting student well-being and learning. #WinAtSocial Lessons teach life skills for the modern day, capture student voice, and provide school leaders with actionable insights. Through these insights, students play an essential role in school efforts to support their own health, happiness, and future success as we enable high-impact teaching, meaningful family conversations, and a healthy school culture.