The Dangers of Social Media for College Applicants

The New York Times ran an excellent article recently about the problems applicants have begun to face with regard to social media.  All parents and students should take this article as a warning.  You may not want to shut down your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, but you should begin to filter your content.

Much of the material high school students post on social media accounts is readily discoverable through a simple Google search.  College admissions officers have begun to conduct these searches, and they have found material at times that puts the seemingly strong candidate in a very bad light.  Essentially, quality candidates are losing spots because they have written comments on Twitter or Facebook that show poor judgment or inappropriate prejudice, and they have discovered pictures that show even worse judgment, and at times evidence of crime.

We understand how social media for high school students has been a part of their lives as children of the Internet age.  However, the permanency and the transparency of an individual’s content on social media sites seems lost on these same students.  Without sounding like a lecture, the bottom line remains that the Internet does not allow teenagers to have fun with postings in private; rather, it exposes every act to scrutiny.  Is it wrong for a good candidate to lose a spot at a school because of tweets that criticized the school or its admission officer?  Is it wrong for a candidate to lose that spot for posting Instagram pics of drinking, partying or sexual behavior?  Teens and other privacy advocates suggest that those in the wrong are the colleges looking at the candidate’s posts, that teens should have a zone of privacy in their social media content.  One could debate privacy issues, but that would not change the two big issues in the application process — (1) colleges tell students up front that they could be denied admission because of matters of character, and (2) teens must realize that getting caught online is  different than getting caught at school or at home in one key respect — the whole world can see the bad judgment exercised.

Colleges look for students of not just academic ability but solid character as well, people who will add to their communities.  An applicant brazen enough to post hate tweets or post pics of their own underage drinking gives colleges good reason to believe that they will not add in a positive way to their communities, particularly in an age of cyberbullying and cyberstalking.

We here at Mackler Associates advise all students and parents that no applicant should post on social media anything he or she would not want a college to see.  Some may complain that makes social media less fun, and that may be true.  But it will certainly make it much safer for the college applicant.