For many of us during the pandemic, our social life needs were met by our social media feeds. Usage of these platforms skyrocketed as #quarantinelife led many people to seek meaningful and whimsical connections outside the walls of their home. And it's not just the oldsters on Facebook; it's teenagers flocking to platforms like TikTok and Snapchat to seek online lives away from the prying eyes of the adults in their lives. And when travel came to a halt, and high school students could no longer visit college campuses easily, colleges got busy meeting students where they were. This meant campus tours going virtual. Often that was Zoom, but sometimes they were hosted within Minecraft or using virtual reality technology. But colleges also increasingly sought to connect and directly interact with students via social media too.
So, to the ever-popular question, "Will colleges look at my social media?" let me be clear, yes. It doesn't mean every admissions officer will—and you'll never be aware of which ones do. But if you're here on the Collegewise blog trying to learn more about the admissions process, you're a young person on the path to college. A misstep here and another there on your social media can distance you from that goal. Moving forward, as you decide whether to hit "Post" or "Publish" and share a part of your life online, factor in this truth, "Yes, colleges will look at my social media," and hit that button accordingly. You've been warned.
Now that I've dramatically introduced that truth, let me also introduce some nuance. Most admission officers in most situations are faaar too busy to look at your social media. They've got thousands of applications to review that are already JAM-PACKED with information about who you are and what you'll bring to their campus. That information is usually more than enough to make an admissions decision. But occasionally, there will be reason for them to Google. It could be you shared something that delighted them, and they want to learn more about that fantastic service project of yours. It could be you used an acronym for a club they're unfamiliar with, and they want to unravel the mystery. But regardless of what made them type your name into the search bar, your social media is now fair game.
As for what to put on your socials—and what to avoid—the Grandma Rule continues to be the best advice. If you'd be embarrassed by any of the adults you love seeing it, don't put it online—even with private settings. (Duh. There are people called "haters" and they do this thing called "leaks.") Some of you may even want to do a bit of spring cleaning on your Insta, which isn't a bad idea and brings to mind the Mama Rule, "If you don't make a mess, you don't have one to clean up." So, use common sense here moving forward. Be a bit more thoughtful and intentional about what you post, knowing that what feels like capturing a fleeting moment (or mood) in time might be captured forever thanks to the often relentless memory of the Internet.
We know of the students losing their place in a class because of racist videos or comments. That's not to say that social media is all bad when it comes to admissions. It's quite the opposite. Plenty of teenagers make perfectly good or even thoughtful decisions in their social media lives and shine. And the good choices these students make in their social media game complements the stories they tell about themselves in their applications.
Before you go out and start curating everything you've put online since middle school, please keep it in perspective. While it's a part of the process, it remains a peripheral one. Colleges remain focused on the coursework, grades, extracurriculars, and letters of rec. Social media unto itself is not a strategy or difference-maker. It's best to recognize it remains only a small opportunity for students to share more of the story they're already telling in their activity summary, personal statement, supplemental essays, and (sometimes) interview. Oh, and since I have you, following a school's social media feeds is not remotely critical in demonstrating interest. A fraction of schools might track your engagement with their channels, but the impact is limited. More important to you is that many of these channels are a great way to learn about a school's culture and priorities and will be a reliable resource as you work through your apps.
Now go have a blast on TikTok! (A couple of my Collegewise colleagues are.) Just remember, as you take on the #UpChallenge (or whatever it is this week), don't forget that Grandma and a few of your favorite admissions officers might be watching, too, so use common sense while you have a great time!
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