Recently, lots of my friends have been changing their names on Facebook. The names are usually puns on their real names—sometimes outrageous and usually hilarious—but they’re all part of a larger tradition that has rocked high school seniors across the country for the past few years. At the start of their senior year, many kids change their names to throw admissions officers off their digital trail.
It works, of course—at least for Facebook—but is it justified? Are we all just being paranoid or do admissions officers really check up on our Facebook, Twitter, and Vine accounts? And does this affect our chances at that dream school?
This is an area of admissions which gets blurry.
Officially—as in written on fancy paper and stuff—checking applicants’ social media accounts is not part of the admissions process. There have been tons of admissions officers and deans of admission who have attested to this.
At the same time, though, in a survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep, 27% of admissions officers claimed to check Google and 26% checked Facebook while reviewing students’ college applications. And get this: 35% of these officers found material that negatively affected their view on a student. This percentage has actually increased significantly from last year’s 12%.
So, basically, there are more admissions officers checking your social media—and more admissions officers finding negative material on this social media—than ever before. Many admissions officers even receive anonymous tips about improper student activity online! This could range from everything from plagiarism to substance abuse to cyberbullying.
At the same time, though, this practice varies from school to school—and from admissions officer to admissions officer. Many officers will only consider checking if there’s something suspicious in your records or application; if you’ve posted something dubious on the university’s own social media; or if other students or parents have reported a disturbing post. Schools that receive massive amounts of applications in particular are less apt to investigate. It’s not something overly commonplace.
So, what can I do?
It’s best to play it safe in any case. Though there’s a good chance no one will be leafing through your posts, you never know. Make your accounts private, take on a pseudonym, untag telltale pictures of yourself, or best of all, just don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your family to see. (Or for that matter, don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your family to know.)
Turn the odds in your favor
While the chances of an admissions officer finding your social media are very real, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Turn these accounts into digital records of your passions, your interests, of who you are. Rather than choosing to post “bro dat rager was gr8 haha got so wasted #yoloswag” (truly a shining example of humankind’s rise to greatness), maybe you could post something that showcases your…uh…less “#yoloswag” side. This does not mean you should completely change your digital profile into a fake, contrived personification of yourself.
There are, however, lots of opportunities to really display your passions! Finding links to an applicant’s band website or nonprofit page through social media would be a lot more flattering to an admissions officer than finding pictures of their latest beer pong accomplishments.
So where do we differentiate myth from reality? Yes, the hype is real: social media is used to an extent in admissions. But this isn’t true for every college, nor for every admissions officer, so there’s no need to be paranoid. Just practice caution, and try to turn this into a perk!
It really can be a half glass full.