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Admissions 106: Dos and Don’t’s in a Digital Age
by Katherine Cohen

The University of Virginia's admissions blog.

Thanks to the Internet, college applicants have unprecedented access to information. You can read through course catalogs on college websites, participate in online college fairs, take virtual campus tours and virtual info sessions, and have interviews via webcasts and Skype. At some schools, such as Tufts University and George Mason University, you can opt to upload a YouTube video essay as part of your application. At other schools you can view admission officers’ blogs, Facebook posts, Tweets, photos and videos (check out the University of Virginia’s "Notes from Peabody" admissions blog and Johns Hopkins University’s "Hopkins Interactive").

However, with this unparalleled digital access come critical rules of social media engagement, which can either increase your chances of getting into your selected schools, or, if used poorly, can also work against you.

Here are 3 don’ts to follow:

  1. Don’t take your online identity for granted. Some admissions officers review students’ social media, and they are obligated to follow up on anonymous tips of poor conduct linked to photographic evidence. At times students’ admissions have been rescinded, so take these steps to help protect yourself:
    • Run everything you post online by the “grandparent test.” If you wouldn’t want your grandparents to see it, don’t post it!

    • Eliminate questionable photos, including pictures in which you’re holding a cup. Why leave its contents to others’ imaginations? When friends post questionable photos of you, asking to be untagged isn’t enough. Ask to be cropped out of the photo or have the picture taken down.

    • Remove contact information. Deleting phone numbers and addresses is a general safety precaution which also reduces an outsider’s ability to do an information search about you.

    • Use a friend filter. Only accept Facebook friend requests from people you know. Otherwise you give a stranger access to all your online information.
  2. Don’t communicate informally with college officials. All written messages—electronic or otherwise—should be written in formal language, be grammatically correct, and be representative of you as a student. No LOLs—ever.
  3. Don’t breach the personal space of school officials. Asking to “friend” a dean of admissions at his/her personal account is likely to do you more harm than good.

Social media can also work to your advantage in college admissions. After all, social media is about expressing yourself as an individual—exactly what many admissions committees seek in a student’s college application. To make the best use of social media:

  1. Express interest in the colleges to which you’re applying. Demonstrate your interest by liking the school, becoming a follower, posting a photo of the school’s mascot on Pinterest, and/or commenting on a blog post.
  2. Show off a little. Social media is a great platform to share interests, talents, and accomplishments, so demonstrate your passion for and pride in your work. If you’re a photographer or an artist, showcase your pictures on Tumblr. If you play music, create a MySpace page devoted to your work. If you like to write, start a WordPress blog. If you’re a star soccer player, post a video on YouTube showing you scoring the winning goal.
  3. Be true to yourself. Don’t create a fake persona or misrepresent yourself to impress an admissions officer who might look at your site. Don’t say you’re a fan of Voltaire if you prefer Stan Lee. It’s hard to lie about your love of philosophy when everyone on your friend list knows you’d rather read Marvel comics.

So, when it comes to social media, be authentic, careful, and enthusiastic (ACE)—and you may find yourself acing the admissions process.

—Dr. Katherine Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise, a college admissions counseling company; and ApplyWise, an interactive college admissions counseling program


Union for Reform Judaism.