10 Jan Done With Your College Applications? THINK AGAIN.
Your applications have been submitted, each one lovingly tucked under your pillow only to be carried away at night by the Admissions Fairy. Look as she sails across the sky, leaving a twinkling trail of acceptance dust in her wake!
Instead of leaving money under your pillow, she collects the $75 application fee.
Now you can rest easy and dream the sweet dreams of freshman orientation, course selection, activity fairs, and campus parties galore. Ah, wondrous visions of a collegiate future…
HEY, STOP! WAKE UP!
The application process is not over! Each Admissions Committee (AdCom) still needs to review your application. Prior to that, some colleges will request an admissions interview with you. I’ll cover how to handle the interview in the next blog post. For now there is one thing you need to do ASAP:
Keep your internet presence in check.
I cannot overstate this enough. It is a necessity, and the purpose of this post is to explain why.
I’m not just talking about your current/future internet presence either, although it would be best if you didn’t make a terrible video that went viral only to be mocked by Conan O’Brien.
I’m talking about purging potentially detrimental content from the past—although nothing on the internet is ever really “gone”—and keeping your privacy settings on lockdown.
It’s a brave new world, and believe it or not, admissions officers know how to use computers.
Nice use of graphics, Mary-Anne!
I might sound like an angry old fogey in this post, but it’s for your benefit. So, dang-nabbit, consarn it, phooey, and harumph! Now that I got that out of my system, let’s begin.
Here’s the thing about teenagers these days.
Commence eye-roll in 3… 2… 1…
You live your lives online. I’m not making a judgment call, it’s just a fact: 94% of you do daily. There are pros and cons, but that’s not what matters here.
What matters is that your presence on the web can affect your chances for admission.
Read that again. Let it sink in. I’m not saying it’s a high probability, but it can happen. When it does, it’s never a positive thing. Nobody gets accepted because an AdCom peeps their Insta feed and goes, “Now this kid is Stansbury material!”
He did get a 1502 on his SATs.
The reality is this. Someone you don’t even know who wields great power over your future might be staring at that picture of you doing a keg-stand at Matt Dreiser’s summer bash. I know, bro. It was a sick party and Matt really went all out with that beach house, but the picture could be your undoing.
Matt Dreiser: the man, the myth, the dude who will still go to high school parties when he’s twenty-three.
Ask yourself this question: “How much of my life is documented on the web and social media?”
I’m not referring only to “public” postings. You may think what you post on Facebook or Instagram is privacy protected, but it’s not. There are ways for people to see your content, even when it’s private. “Private” on the internet often means “a little more difficult to access.”
Understand that AdComs might dig deep for information about you. Interviewers might, too.
I’ve heard stories of admissions officers using the profile of someone who is Facebook friends with an applicant to access the applicant’s full profile. That is some deep-level information mining. It happens.
One of those admissions officers also found a glitch in The Matrix.
GATHER ‘ROUND AND I’LL TELL YOU A TALE
Indulge me, if you will, to tell a personal history of the internet. I grew up alongside of it, after all.
I was rocking AOL on a dial-up modem at age 11 (screen name: BoardSP0RT), downloading gigs of music on Napster at 16, and at 19, I joined Facebook on its first day: February 4th, 2004. Back then it was TheFacebook.com, an invite-only network for Harvard students. By my senior year it had expanded so much that my mom was on it. Cool, right?
“But it says if I don’t copy and paste this into my status, something terrible will happen!”
When the internet was in its infancy, there was a strong paranoia about sharing any piece of personal information online, even a phone number or a picture. There was this idea that suddenly the whole world would know your secrets, and your privacy would vanish forever.
If you’re a teenager reading this, it can be hard to understand this fear. Here’s an example to illustrate.
There’s a scene in the comedy classic The Jerk where Navin R. Johnson (played by Steve Martin) gets his name in the phone book, only to have his identity randomly selected by a madman and marked for death. That’s what so many who logged onto the internet in the early days were afraid of: a loss of privacy with dire consequences. We feared people who hated cans.
The paranoia persisted over the years. When a friend invited me to join TheFacebook.com on that chilly February day, I balked.
“The site seems like a silly idea,” I said. “I mean, who is going to willingly post a bunch of personal information on the web?”
Two-billion people, that’s who. Now, it’s the norm. (And clearly, I’m terrible at making predictions.)
They call me Nope-stradamus
But a little of that fear is good, especially if it forces you to take stock of what you’ve posted online. Consider this: if an AdCom could peruse the sum total of your social media presence, would it hinder your admissions chances?
If the answer is yes, you need to do something about that.
“You’re being overdramatic, Stephen,” you insist. “First of all, my online presence is that of an average teenager. Secondly, AdComs aren’t going to scrutinize it.”
Take a seat by the fire, and I’ll tell you two stories. Let’s say I heard them from close friends. Both didn’t happen to me. Cool?
“Instead of sending the message to her ex, she sent it to… all 1,283 of her friends!”
The first story involves a deleted Facebook post. The full content of the post isn’t worth repeating, but imagine it was something posted in anger by a high school sophomore venting against a group of bullies. The language was sharp and wry, but the post included a threat. It was made in jest—the student didn’t really intend to bludgeon anyone with the corpse of a fetal pig from the AP Bio lab—but it was a threat nonetheless.
The student never faced any repercussions because he took down the post soon after, realizing how it could be interpreted, and he apologized to the offended parties. It seemed like the matter was resolved.
Not so. A fellow student took a screenshot of the post when it was live and shared it on the forum-based website Reddit. It was viewed around 10,000 times, and although the author’s name was blacked out, the post contained the name of the school and enough identifying information that someone could put the pieces together.
Two years later, an admissions officer did. This post, thought to be deleted, cost the author an athletic scholarship and admission to his dream school. No university wants to admit someone who threatens others, whether it’s a joke or not.
As I said before, content on the internet never really dies, and it can be resurrected when you least expect it.
It’s the Ghost of Untagged Photos Past!
Speaking of dream schools, allow me to tell you the second tale of woe.
An alumni representative of an Ivy League school was assigned to interview an applicant. In most cases, alumni interviewers are given zero information on the person they’re interviewing. It is their job to get to know the student and write a report that gets sent to the admissions office and added to the student’s application.
The interviewer reached out to the student, who was chipper and enthusiastic, and they set up a time for an interview. Then, the interviewer did something a lot of interviewers do. She googled the applicant.
During the interview, she asked him a standard question, “Why do you want to go to School X?” where School X was the Ivy League institution she was representing.
“It’s always been my dream!” the applicant gushed and began to explain how it’s something he wanted for years. School X, he said, was his “dream school.”
The interviewer frowned. She knew he was lying.
She didn’t call him out on it though. What she did do, however, was write about it in the interview report.
You see, when she googled the applicant before the interview, she found his Twitter page. It was a normal teenager’s feed, nothing objectionable, but there was one tweet from a week earlier with an image that stood out.
The image was the student wearing a Stanford t-shirt, pointing to it with two fingers. The caption read, “Just submitted my application to my dream school!!”
I bet he says that to all the schools, I thought when I first heard this story.
The campus is dreamy, I’ll give him that.
On its own, this wasn’t a bad tweet, but it didn’t jive with what the student said during the interview. The tweet wouldn’t have impacted the applicant negatively if he hadn’t lied about his preference for School X in the interview. That was the problem.
It drew his character into question, and it became clear he was being deceitful in the interview. He hadn’t been able to back his “School X is my dream school” statement with school-specific facts either.
Worse, he had gone out of his way to make this enthusiastic declaration. The interviewer wouldn’t have faulted his Twitter feed if he had not proclaimed his love for School X to her. The fact that he did while evidence on his social media said otherwise was troubling.
SO HOW DO YOU PROTECT YOURSELF?
I’m not saying you need to stop living your life online.
Okay, maybe I am kind of saying that, at least temporarily.
You never know who’s scrutinizing your online life.
Jack up your privacy settings to the highest level. Dig through your archives and take down any content that could be troubling to AdComs… and employers, too, because that comes next.
During your freshman year, you’ll be lining up jobs and internships for the following summer, and if you think AdComs are nosy with social media, companies are worse. I once had a boss who made reference to a picture I’d been tagged in from 2007 during spring break of my senior year in college. It was 2010, three years later.
Below I’ve compiled a few guides to shoring up your social media accounts. In an ideal world, you won’t have to do any of this because your online presence is sound.
But hey, we all have skeletons in our internet closets.
I told my boss that I was merely assessing the tonal properties of two volumetrically distinct containers… I’m an idiot.
Here’s one for Instagram.
This is how to make your entire Twitter account private, meaning your tweets and content can only be seen by your followers. You can reverse it at any time.
Finally, here’s how to protect your SnapChat.
Now, go forth! Batten down the hatches of your social media world and give this tired old sailor a reason to rest easy.
It’ll be smooth sailing from here on out on the S.S. Acceptance.