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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

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Jan 04, 2010 12:00AM

Ready for a Visit from College Admissions?

Your college-bound teen’s applications are all in, she’s written her essays, and she’s been focusing on a successful senior year—but what’s going on with her Facebook and Instagram profiles? These online profiles may be one aspect of the college admissions process that you’ve never even considered, but it is actually more important than you may think. Facebook is open to everyone, which means anyone can sign up, search for, and even “friend” your college-bound teen.

There are privacy settings, and it is highly unlikely that admissions officers are searching for individual students because they simply don’t have that kind of time, but what about a jealous Facebook “friend” who does have access to your teen’s profile? Could he or she post unflattering comments, tag your teen in questionable photos or even send that material to an admissions officer? Absolutely. You can’t assume that your teen’s Facebook page is secure just because she has privacy settings preventing strangers from seeing her profile.

A representative from one Ivy League school recently said that their offices receive a number of anonymous Facebook and Google “tips” each year. Their offices have received photos of students doing things that they shouldn’t be doing, and certainly shouldn’t be posting on the Internet. He went on to say that on at least one occasion an offer of admission has been revoked as a result. So what should students do to ensure their Facebook profiles don’t have a negative influence on their chances for being admitted to the college of their choice? Here are some tips for your college-bound teen:

  • Remove phone numbers and addresses from Facebook. Not only is this a general safety precaution, but it also reduces someone’s ability to search for your teen.
  • Use a friend filter. Chances are, she’s only really using social networking sites to connect with friends, so using a friend filter enables her to only accept requests from people she knows in real life.
  • Utilize private messages. If she wouldn’t want her grandparents to see a message sent between her and her friends, then she also should not post anything on someone’s wall that she wouldn’t want them to see. Make sure her friends know about the “grandparent test” policy and do the same.
  • Untag herself from any questionable photos! After doing so, talk to the person who posted the pictures and ask them to take them down or crop/remove her from the pictures. Obviously, it is best to not engage in any behavior that may result in a questionable photo.

While your child’s social networking pages and profiles can have a potentially negative impact on her chances of admission, it’s important to keep in mind that there are ways to use these sites to one’s advantage during the college admissions process. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all about expressing yourself as an individual, which is exactly what many admissions committees want to see in your child’s application. Students must make their Facebook profiles an accurate, yet professional, extension of themselves. Here are some ways students can make the best use of social networking sites:

  • Be true to herself. Students may want to impress admissions counselors with their Facebook, but they should be sure not to misrepresent themselves.
  • Show off a little. If your teen is a photographer or an artist, she should post her pictures. If she plays music, she should create an Instagram page devoted to her work. If she likes to write, she should start a blog. This will show admissions counselors that she has a real passion for something, and that she’s proud of her work. Again, she will want to run all content by that “grandparent test.”
  • Let Facebook help her stay organized. As she goes through high school, she should use her profile to help her track achievements, jobs, internships, clubs, sports, goals, interests, and even her favorite books. Applications for schools like Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Chicago ask students what they have read recently, and this can be a great place to help her keep track.
  • Express interest in the colleges to which she applies. Many colleges are creating pages on Facebook, and she can express interest by “friending” them, or becoming a fan. That said, she should not friend admissions counselors directly, this can be taken as a ploy to increase her chance of admissions and can do more harm than good.

Social networking has changed the college admissions process, and it’s important to be aware of and keep up with what’s going on. Follow these simple tips throughout the college admissions process, and remember to police her online identity throughout college, as employers are keeping an eye on social networking sites as well!

College admissions expert Dr. Katherine Cohen is CEO and founder of IvyWise, an internationally recognized college admissions counseling company and , the first online college admissions counseling tool. She has written two books about the college admissions process: The Truth About Getting In and Rock Hard Apps.