My wife is a high school teacher. Each year around this time she sits writing letters of recommendation explaining to college admissions officers why her students should be allowed to attend their dream universities. Her students, however, are responsible for securing admission through a lot more than just recommendations. They have to write essays, provide test scores, receive good grades, and at times, have interviews.
But college admissions officers seem to still want more information about applicants and they are going online to look for it. Results from Kaplan Test Prep's 2012 survey of college admissions officers highlights that schools are discovering information on Facebook and Google that negatively impact applicants' acceptance chances.
Twenty-seven percent of admissions officers used Google. Twenty-six percent checked Facebook as part of the applicant review process. This is a slight increase over last year when 20 percent used Google and 26 percent reviewed applicants' Facebook profiles.
Adding to that, the percentage of college admissions officers who said they discovered something that negatively impacted an applicant's chances of getting into the school nearly tripled from 12 percent last year to 35 percent this year. Plagiarized essays, vulgar language on blog posts, and evidence of alcohol consumption were among the most common offenses that made admissions officers this twice about decisions.
A few years ago college applicants didn't have to worry about this problem. Only one in 10 admissions officers reported checking applicants' social networking pages in 2008, the first year Kaplan tracked this trend.
At Qnary, a startup I founded earlier this year, we work with applicants and their parents to make sure their online presences sing and help -- not hinder -- their chances of getting into the school of their choice. We provide an overview of what applicants look like online from a social media, search, and content perspective and then provide applicants with the tools they need to shape their image. We can help applicants build robust profiles that align themselves with activities and interests they enjoy.
Some very basic tips for all students:
1. Untag yourself: Remove questionable photos or content. Photos that can stay online are ones that you'd be okay with parents, grandparents, and younger siblings seeing.
2. Post interesting content: For example, add links to YouTube videos of NASA launches if you're applying for an aeronautical engineering degree. Want to major in marketing? Add links interesting articles from AdWeek, AdAge, and MediaPost, show that you already keep up on developments in that field.
3. Limit your profile searchability: Change privacy settings so that only your friends and followers can see your information. You can change your settings so that only friends-of-friends can message you.
Although it might sound appealing to skirt the system by changing your name on a profile or building a fake page, those options could have negative consequences, especially if your friends have tagged you or your page has been linked to on other sites that have the information about you.
Make sure you put your best foot forward online to get into the university of your dreams. Optimize your online identity before you send that college admissions packet.