Hidden in Plain Sight: or how to use Social Media to bolster your college search and application process

Social media is no less ubiquitous in the college application process than everywhere else in our daily lives. Just as a potential employer may search for your name on Google, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram (to name a few), the practice is gaining increasing acceptance in the world of college admissions, as well. Though perhaps this acceptance is tacit, the fact is, you can never be sure who will be checking out your social media. Therefore, you must always assume that admissions officers are! Yet just as social media can reveal a great deal about you, you can also put it to use to learn things about colleges that have not been filtered through their marketing machines. In this post, we will share some tactics for putting social media to work for you in the college application and research process.

Part I: Smart College Research

Short of visiting a college in person and speaking to current students, we always tell our students that the best place for comprehensive, synthesized, and impartial information on colleges is the Fiske Guide to Colleges. Yet not all colleges are covered by Fiske, and even for those that are, there are distinct advantages to taking your research to the next level. First and foremost, learning everything you can about a college helps you understand whether it is a good fit for you—and the importance of this cannot be overstated. Second, the information that you learn in this process will help you both in your admissions interviews and writing your “Why This School?” essays. So here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Knowing your #s and @s. The @, or account tag, is the “Hey You!” of social media (for you grammar nerds out there, it’s the equivalent of the Latin vocative case). It directly calls out a person or entity (or school!) on social media. On most platforms, users have some degree of control over when they are tagged with @, which means that negative information attributed to them in this way may be filtered. The #, or hashtag, on the other hand, is a category marker. It basically says, the content of this post is related to #dormliving or #bowdoincollege or the #commonapp. No one owns a hashtag, and thus, users have little to no control over them. As such, while searching for @princeton may only reveal what the university has decided is fit for public consumption, searching for #princeton may yield more useful results.
  • Posts by Current Students. Using the above, try to find posts by current students. Current students who are (or aspire to be) influencers often post their unfiltered feelings about schools on social media. While certainly these will be more partial than other sources of information, getting to know the opinions of several current students will help you triangulate the authentic student experience at a school.
  • YouTube. YouTube can be an excellent source of information on schools. Look for videos by current students, as with the above. It is also a great way to learn about new places where you may be considering going to college. For example, if you are unfamiliar with College Station, TX, search for drone flyover video to get a general birdseye view of the town. Then search for a walkthrough or video tour to get a feel for the streets, shops, businesses, and life of the community.

Part II: Make Your Application Better

And then, of course, there is the question of your social media, which you need to ensure is admissions officer-appropriate! Here are a few important steps to take:

  • Tags. Remember how we said institutions can control when they are tagged? So can you! Indeed, before applying to colleges, this is one of the first things you should do. For each of the social media platforms you use, change settings to limit others’ ability to tag you. One way to do this is to require your approval for tags. This will prevent anything you deem inappropriate from being associated with your name.
  • Cleaning Up. The next thing you should do is scour your past posts (and posts in which you have been tagged) for anything that might portray you in a less-than-positive light. If you posted it, delete it or change the privacy setting so that it is visible only to you. If someone else posted it, either delete it (if you have the ability to do so) or remove your tag.
  • Creating a Positive Online Image. Moving forward, you should of course make sure that all of your posts put your best foot forward. Yet you can also proactively mobilize social media platforms that help you build your professional image. The first and foremost of these is LinkedIn, the undisputed champion of professional networking. It allows you to foreground your work experiences and accomplishments that will help set you apart from other candidates. LinkedIn is also a very powerful job search tool, and when you are looking for summer jobs or post-graduation opportunities, you will be glad you’ve set it up. If you’re looking to chat with other college applicants about the process, but want to leave your friends out of it, check out ZeeMee or Reddit! Student athletes hoping to get recruited to a college team should also explore platforms such as Recruit Spot or other platforms specific to their sport (such as SwimCloud for swimmers).

Because social media is a powerful tool, it can both hurt and help you in your college application process. By following these tips, you will ensure that you are leveraging social media in ways that both assist you in finding the school of your dreams and make you the most attractive candidate you can be!

NOTE: This article first appeared on the website of our colleagues at Distinctive College Consulting.