College admissions officers look at more than just applications, transcripts, and test scores when deciding who will get a thumbs up in the college admissions process. They also increasingly look at applicants’ online presence. It is not uncommon for promising applicants to be rejected based on a negative impression from their online activity alone. As you prepare your college applications, be sure to set aside time to clean and polish your online persona. Here are a few guidelines to help you spruce up.
Stand in Your Truth
Start by taking an honest look at your online identity from the perspective of a college recruiter. Log out of any Google accounts you own, then Google your name. Try just your first and last name, then your full name. Lastly, search for your name followed by your hometown. Notice what comes up on the first few pages of results for each search. Then look at the “Images” view for each search.
Do similar searches on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. Be sure to look at your profile from the “public view” so you can see your pages as others see them.
Would what you see make a good first impression? If you would be embarrassed for your grandmother to see it, it’s probably not ideal for a college recruiter’s eyes, either. Inappropriate language, compromising photos, and evidence of immature, obnoxious, or unkind (not to mention illegal) behavior all would reflect poorly on your application.
You might think you could casually brush off such evidence with, “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible,” but chances are, you would never get that opportunity. Your application would simply go in the circular file as a rejection letter is sent to your mailbox.
If, after spending a little time perusing your online reputation, you decide you don’t like what you see, there are a few actions you can take to tidy up. If the offending posts are on your own pages, simply delete them. If they are on pages owned by your friends, ask them to take them down. If they refuse, you can at least untag yourself in any compromising photos.
Google and most other major search engines have a process for requesting that data be removed from pages that are old, or cached, versions of pages that are no longer active. Simply fill out a request form and wait for a response. But don’t expect it to be a slam-dunk; your request may or may not be successful.
Adjust Your Privacy Settings
Privacy policies and settings on social media platforms change frequently. Learn about them for each site you are on, and mark your calendar to review them at least a couple of times a year. It will take some time and effort on your part to explore and understand all the ins and outs of each platform’s privacy features, but your future is worth it.
Set all settings to the highest level of privacy and security possible. In some cases, you can also limit the audience for all your past posts.
Even if you have selected all the most private options, some parts of your profile, such as your profile photo and cover photo, can still be viewed. Make sure anything that is not private is something you would be proud to show a college recruiter.
Use a Pseudonym on Social Media
Another option is to use a fake name for your social media accounts. Some people choose a childhood nickname or an anagram of their name. Others go by only their first and middle name online. Some also choose to use an image that is symbolic of their personality, but not an actual photo of their face, for their profile pic.
Trim Your Friends List
Periodically do a little housecleaning of your friends list so that it includes only those whom you know well and trust. College application season isn’t the time to give your social media reputation over to those who may not have your best interests at heart. Some platforms, such as Facebook, also allow you to create sublists (for close friends, acquaintances, etc.), allowing you to set different privacy levels for each group.
Bury What You Can’t Scrub
If, after trying all the strategies above, you still have a few unsavory posts out there, try the “bury the bad under the good” approach. You may not be able to make the bad stuff go away, but you can add so much good stuff that the bad is harder to find. Most people won’t look beyond the third or fourth page of search results connected to your name. Your job is to give them plenty of good stuff to find before they get that far.
You can easily build your own attractive, professional-quality website using free platforms such as Wix or Weebly. Or start a blog or an About.me page to lead people to content you want them to find. Build a Tumblr blog to showcase your art, or post your writing on sites such as Medium or WattPad. Many different options are available for creating content about yourself that presents you, your interests, and your accomplishments in a positive light.
Delete Your Account
Another option is to close your social media accounts altogether. Download any data you wish to keep, then click “delete account.” You can always start over with new accounts, with a commitment to be more diligent about protecting your online reputation going forward.
Of course, these tips only scratch the surface of advice we could give about the wise use of the Internet. Look for more articles coming soon to this space about ways to protect your online reputation and build a web presence you would be proud to share with the college of your dreams.