Social Media Do’s and Don’ts When Applying to College

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College admissions officers have discovered Facebook. Most treat it as a recruiting tool, but a growing number also use it to check up on applicants, according to a 2012 survey by Kaplan Test Prep. Though it isn’t yet routine, a quarter of admissions officers reported visiting the Facebook pages of applicants, up from 10 percent in 2008.

Only 15 percent of the schools surveyed had an official policy about how admissions officers should use social media. As a result, there’s wide variation. Some believe offers of admission should be based solely on what’s in the application packet. For them, using social media seems like eavesdropping or stalking. Others argue that what happens online is public information. They prefer students who are digitally literate and penalize those who show poor judgment in how they present themselves online.

This inconsistency means students who put time and thought into college applications should back it up with careful attention to how they present themselves on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Even if college admissions officers aren’t looking, the information available there may very well influence scholarship committees, teachers writing letters of recommendation, employers offering internships and even future roommates.

Parents can help high-school students use social media to polish rather than tarnish their images. Here are some tips:

Pay attention to privacy. Facebook offers many options, clearly described under Privacy Settings. At the very least, encourage your child to restrict who can see information beyond the profile page. Remind your student that privacy restrictions won’t provide complete security because friends can tag and share whatever your child posts.

Review friends. Many students have hundreds of friends on Facebook. Although Facebook allows users to create lists so some of what they share goes only to an inner circle, most teens don’t have the discipline to evaluate every post. During application season, they should think twice before posting. Regardless of precautions taken by students, damaging information on Facebook has a way of leaking out. Other students may get or send Facebook invitations to connect with influential adults. Students need to remember that becoming online “friends” means that everything on Facebook, including comments from friends, will be under scrutiny.

Chisel the profile. Although your child can hide his or her profile, it may be better to keep it public — and professional. Be sure it features a photo that’s friendly and wholesome. Review the Favorites that appear on the profile page. Remind your student that choices about music, books, movies, TV shows, websites and quotations create an impression. Be sure it’s positive.

Take control of tags. The default setting on Facebook allows tags, so photos taken by your child’s friends can show up on his or her wall. Encourage your child to change the privacy setting so he or she can review tagged photos before they are posted.

Accent accomplishments. Encourage your child to use social media to promote positive accomplishments. Include links to blogs and YouTube videos that showcase talent.

Be law-abiding. If your child has the bad judgment to speed, text while driving, use illegal drugs or participate in underage drinking, be sure he or she doesn’t boast about it online. School officials don’t want to see photos of inebriated students.

Nix negativity. It’s tempting, but unwise, to use Facebook to vent about problems. Be especially careful about critiquing colleges. One admissions officer changed his mind about a promising student after she made disparaging remarks about her campus visit.

Remember that character counts. Avoid photos and posts that are rude, vulgar or sexually suggestive. Remember that colleges are trying to create a climate of tolerance. A student may think it’s funny to join an “I Hate …” group, but a college admissions officer may see it as evidence of bullying or bias.

In addition to encouraging your child to burnish his or her image on Facebook, do a Google search for your child’s name. This will usually reveal other social media activity and what is publicly available on these accounts. In Kaplan’s study, a quarter of admissions officers had done just that, and 35 percent found something that made them disqualify an applicant. If something especially embarrassing pops up, ask for it to be removed from the original website. If that’s not possible, try to bury it in an avalanche of positive results.

Carolyn Jabs raised three computer-savvy kids and has been writing about growing up with technology for 10 years.

What Students Can Learn About Colleges posts a list of the Top 100 Social Media Colleges with links that make it easy to connect on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and iTunes. For other schools, visit the admissions page and look for icons that link to social networking sites. Here’s some of what prospective students can don online to get to know more about a school:

– Flip through the photo album, a good supplement to the website’s virtual tour.

– Like or follow the admissions office to get updates about deadlines and activities.

– Check out departments and student organizations, especially if your child has specialized interests.

– Seek out student blogs and videos for candid insight into what life is really like on campus.

– Ask questions. A thoughtful question or comment on a Facebook page is a good way to get information — and possibly get noticed.

Schools usually ramp up outreach once students are admitted. Participating in admitted student groups is a great way to connect before getting to campus. Also, remind your student to check e-mail. Colleges often use it to send reminders about upcoming deadlines and even to announce acceptances.