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Article by Evan Forster, Photo by Chris Lott

 

Today I read a pretty boring and useless article in the Chicago Tribune about whether college admissions officers look at social media profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other sites during the admissions process. This is certainly nothing that has not been examined over and over in, but it’s a great opportunity for a teachable moment—especially since the article did not have one.

Admissions officers look at social media much more than they claim to. Very few colleges actually admit to this publicly, or include “social media” as one of the factors they consider in admissions. But they do! However, it’s usually a good thing: If an admissions officer is not interested in you, they don’t waste their time checking out your Facebook page or tweets.

The “solution” of many students and/or parents who are beginning the college application process is to scrub their social media presence altogether. But let me be clear: This is a bad solution. In this day and age, having NO social media presence hurts you as much as having a “questionable” one (though in different ways and for different reasons). As one select-university admissions officer recently shared, "We want students who are engaged with the world around them, who are part of the social dialogue of the age." I heard the same thing at an IECA conference two years ago, and it’s even more true now.

At Forster-Thomas, we do a "social media audit" without even telling our students first. When we find something questionable, we discuss it with them. It's an opportunity to teach the student about responsibility, maturity, and public persona. We've never found something truly disturbing, nor have we had to mention anything to a parent. The worst is usually too many "duck-face photos" on Instagram or Facebook or a multitude of party photos.

A great start in the social-media-maturity lesson is email addresses: I quash immature names like "pinkpony13" or inappropriate names like "kim2hot2b" in favor of simple first-name-last-name-numeral addresses. My favorites are email addresses where the domain name is the family's last name (like evan@forsternyc.com…BTW not my real email). 

Some things that are OK, although they make parents nervous, are beach photos (bikinis and board shorts are just what people wear on the beach…nothing you need to be worried about), party photos that don’t involve drugs or alcohol (or such things in the background), and think-piece blogs on controversial issues like civil rights, abortion, religion, etc. Outside of truly fringe ideologies, having controversial ideas is not a problem—having no ideas is a bigger problem. Colleges like thinkers, including public ones. This demonstrates courage and involvement.

So don’t scrub your social media presence, just make sure it reflects who you truly are -- a member of the 21st Century.