How Your Child’s Social Media Can Help With College Admissions
By Mary Fetzer
When you applied for college, you might not have had to worry about personalizing a generic multi-school application, and you probably didn’t face scrutiny of your online activities or get asked questions about even minor brushes with the law. But admissions offices around the country are now using standardized applications and combing through social media, and some are demanding information on interactions with the police, raising questions among parents, students, and even civil rights groups about how to prevent unfair bias in the highly competitive admissions race.
College and social media
With entry into college (and eventually one’s career) looming, it makes sense to harness the power of social media. Social media platforms go beyond the one-size-fits-all format of the Common Application to provide a more complete picture of an applicant. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites provide the primary mode of communication among today’s teens, so it’s no surprise that more than 35 percent of college admissions officers visit the social media pages of their applicants, according to a 2014 Kaplan report.
What might be surprising is that you don’t have to rush online to start scrubbing your teenager’s Instagram feed, lest colleges find a trove of pictorial tomfoolery. “The fact is, colleges and employers simply don’t care if they find pictures of you having fun (or too much fun) on the Internet,” say the social media consultants at Social Assurity. “But, increasingly, they do care that the claims on your application reflect the realities of who you truly are.”
Melissa Davis is the CEO of GoEnnounce, which teaches students in grades 7 to 12 the importance of creating a positive digital footprint for college readiness. “Admissions aren’t searching strictly to police students, they are also searching for things that validate and confirm what a student is putting on a college application,” she says.
“If a student is ‘private’ everywhere, it’s almost as if he/she doesn’t exist, and that can be worse than an admissions office finding a negative or silly thing a student did online,” explains Davis. “It’s perfectly acceptable for students to use social media privately with friends, but they should also be conscious of using additional social media outlets safely, to start to build their ‘digital brand.’”
So, before you force your high school student to aggressively edit or shut down their online profiles, consider how such profiles can be beneficial. Used responsibly and proactively, social media sites may be just what’s needed to set your child apart from the rest.
What about those criminal history questions?
The Common App requires students to denote whether or not they have faced serious disciplinary action in school or been convicted of a crime. But 17 universities in the South want to know more.
Auburn University, Virginia Tech, and the University of Alabama are among those asking prospective undergrads to disclose criminal records, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says that this will lead to discrimination against minority applicants.
Auburn’s online application question reads, “Have you ever been charged with or convicted of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to a crime other than a minor traffic offense, or are there any criminal charges now pending against you?” As written, an applicant who was arrested must check “Yes” even if he or she was not arrested or convicted.
The Lawyers’ Committee argues that questions such as this target minorities, who are more subject to arrest. The committee is investigating Auburn and the other 16 southern schools as part of its national initiative to reduce the effect of criminal histories on admissions.
“The disparities and underrepresentation we see at schools is a concern, and this may indeed be one of the contributing factors,” Lawyers’ Committee Executive Director Kristen Clarke told the New York Times.
MJ Knoll-Finn, New York University’s vice president for enrollment management, reached out to the chair of the Common Application and requested an expedited review of the fairness and “predictive value” of criminal records on applications.
Bottom line, getting into college is not getting any easier. Encourage your child to work hard in school, get involved in the community, build a positive digital footprint, and stay out of trouble with the law.
Mary Fetzer is a professional freelance writer and editor. She has 10 years of experience writing articles, blog posts, and press releases for online publications and has covered an enormous range of topics ranging from personal finance and international trade to pregnancy and senior living. Mary also writes about legal issues in everyday life on the Avvo Stories blog. Avvo helps people find and connect with the right lawyer through industry leading content, tools and services. A free Q&A forum with more than 9 million questions and answers, along with on-demand legal services that provide professional counsel for a fixed cost, make legal faster and easier. For more information, visit www.avvo.com.