This is a contributed post by Stacey Ross Cohen, author of Brand Up: The Ultimate Playbook for College and Career Success in a Digital World.
Your teen’s social media accounts are integral to the college application process and require as much scrutiny as the college essay—perhaps even more.
Can social media make or break a student’s college application?
The short answer is yes.
The type of person described in your teen’s application must be in sync with their social media accounts.
The same thing applies to job interviews. It has become commonplace for admission officers and job recruiters to screen applicants’ online profiles. Social media accounts should help answer questions like:
Why should a highly selective college choose you?
Why should you get a merit aid award?
Why should you be accepted or hired over other applicants?
What can a teen do on social media to stand out?
So, how does your teen make an online portfolio polished, professional, and unique?
Here are eight social media tips for college admissions to guide them to put their best digital foot forward during the college admission journey.
1. Develop a shiny online presence.
Start with a cleanup by removing dormant, inappropriate profiles, including images containing nudity, alcohol, drugs, or offensive language. If someone has posted a questionable photo, your teen should ask them to remove it or untag them.
Teens should also search their names online and note how they show up. It’s not wise for your teen to delete their profile because it doesn’t guarantee the data is completely gone. Plus, it looks like they’re trying to hide something.
2. Invest in the right platforms.
With the cleanup complete, it’s time to create a digital presence that differentiates your teen and tells their story—including talents, passions, achievements, and more. Teens need to narrow down the vast array of social media platforms by determining which ones best accentuate their strengths:
Are they an artist? Then Pinterest and Instagram work best. Are they seeking a career in broadcasting? Then stick to YouTube or TikTok.
3. LinkedIn is all that.
LinkedIn is the most beneficial channel for college-bound students to stand out and showcase their achievements. Getting a jump start on LinkedIn (by age 16) allows teens to take charge of their narrative in a professional manner and set the stage for their career path.
Since admissions officers favor well-rounded applicants, it’s best to highlight a mix of academics, leadership, and community service on the profile. Encourage your teen to create a custom LinkedIn URL that allows others to find and connect with them easily. Another LinkedIn bonus: it builds teens’ networking skills, allowing them to communicate with admissions officers, professionals in their intended field, and like-minded students.
4. Create an Epic Profile
Once your teen has selected which platforms to invest in, it’s time to build an online profile highlighting a diverse range of academic pursuits, hobbies, and volunteer work. Positive character attributes like leadership, resiliency, teamwork, and volunteer service should surface.
A headshot (high-resolution photo; minimum 300 DPI) from the shoulder level up with professional attire and a neutral background should be used across all social media platforms for consistency. If your teen is feeling creative, they can also include their all-time favorite quote.
5. Content is King.
It’s time to post college-centric content. Teens can share pictures from their college tour, topics related to their intended major, and more. While teens should include community activities on their application, showing this through social media is quite another thing. For example, does your teen have photos of collecting supplies for a local homeless shelter? Are they reposting interesting articles about climate change? Teens can also share a link to a news article with thoughtful comments that show leadership, critical thinking, and intelligent analysis.
And, of course, before posting, teens should put content through the PURE Test: Is it Positive, Unbiased, Respectful, and Ethical?
Remember, you don’t need hide. The goal is not to evade college admissions officers on social media. Teens can and should leverage social media to broadcast their authentic and best selves.
6. Stand Out.
Here are three social media tips for college admissions to help your teen set themselves apart in the application process:
- Build a personal website to showcase achievements, activities, volunteerism, and a portfolio of work. It’s relatively easy to choose a website platform (e.g., Squarespace), register a domain, and select a web hosting plan.
- Email signature lines are great real estate. Include full name, grade/high school name, address, cell phone number, a good-quality photo, hyperlinked social media icons, and website hyperlink (if applicable).
- Share Their Personal Narrative through a Video Link. Be sure to stay on message, speak clearly, dress accordingly, choose an appropriate background, and keep it brief: 90 seconds or less.
7. Engage with colleges’ social media.
Teens need to follow the college’s accounts they are interested in and show their love by being visible and liking content. Connecting with college admissions officers, professors, department heads, and alumni is a great way to show interest.
8. Consider all touch points.
Every communication mode (email, cell phones, interviews) counts. Privacy does not exist on any social channels, including one’s cell phone. Text messages can be screenshoted and shared without your permission, leaving you no control over where they land.
Remember that screenshots of racist and inflammatory (private) text conversations have gone viral countless times. Before your teen hits “send” on that next text message or post on that disappearing SnapChat, they should ask themselves: Would I be comfortable with that message scrolling across the Times Square digital billboard?
And just because your teen applied or received an offer does not remove them from exercising discretion.
Consider Harvard’s withdrawal of admission offers to ten incoming freshmen for offensive Facebook posts in 2017. This reminds us that “smart” kids are not always smart on social media.
Teens need to be consistently reminded of good social media habits
Encourage your teen to become a master of first impressions.
The ultimate goal is for them to come across as a responsible young person who would be a welcome member of a college campus.
Check out Stacey’s book, Brand Up, for more great information on how to leverage social media for college admissions and career success.
The college admissions process can feel overwhelming. Before starting out, we highly recommend reading this post: “Who Gets In and Why” Is a Must-Read for Families Starting the College Admissions Process
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
Parenting teens and tweens is hard for everyone. Here are some other posts parents found helpful:
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