It’s been said (and sung) that every rose has its thorn. Clearly, one of the primary thorns to accompany the Internet is a loss of privacy. It’s a sometimes unfortunate reality in 2012 that privacy in our personal lives cannot be expected. Actively engaging and sharing information with others via social media (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.) has become common practice. And, many colleges are using this in the application process to learn more about their candidates. In some instances, educational institutions have even asked candidates for their passwords. Legislation seeking to outlaw this practice is pending in states such as Illinois and Maryland. Regardless, it doesn’t take a PhD to reason that it’s a good idea for any student applying to college to do some social media housekeeping. Below are some best practices that any student in the midst of the application process would do well to consider.
1) Get familiar with your privacy settings…and USE them: Facebook, Twitter, and virtually every other social media platform has customizable “privacy settings”. Familiarize yourself with them. Prevent anyone but your friends from viewing your posts and require that “pre-approval” be given to any tagged photos before they can appear on your profile page. Otherwise you risk leaving your profile content open to the curation and judgment of everyone you’re socially connected with.
2) Practice sound judgment: There’s no way around it. Despite how tight your privacy settings are, what you post online may be viewable by a much larger audience than you realize. If it’s not something you’re comfortable with everyone knowing about you, it’s probably best to leave it off your page. Specifically, material that is socially inflammatory, displays explicit drug or alcohol use, or is overly sexual in nature should never make it to your social media profile.
3) Your profile picture is never private: Regardless of your profile settings, your “default” or “profile” picture is almost always available to the public. Even with maximum use of available privacy settings, the picture you set as the default is often easily found by anyone who is really looking. So, be especially careful about which picture you choose to represent yourself to the rest of the online world.
4) On Facebook, don’t forget about “likes” and comments: Facebook will often make available to your friends and/or the public a history of your online activity, based on what you “like,” what you comment on, and even who makes their way onto your friends list. It’s also very challenging to prevent photos, groups, events, and ads that you “like” from being visible to anyone with access to your page. So while you’re in the process of applying to college, be sure to not join potentially controversial pages or to “like” anything you wouldn’t want a stranger – or college admissions officer – seeing.
5) Don’t forget about “check-ins”: Where you go can be as informative as the things you post, the photos you take, and the company you keep. They can tell someone looking to learn more about you what your interests are, where and how you spend your money and time, and even your sleep or studying habits. Since you never know what people will judge, you’re better off keeping this information off the digital record.
If you understand that what you post is viewable by more eyes than just your inner circle, you’re already ahead of the game. During the college application process it’s recommended that you exercise even more care with your social media presence than usual. No one would want to be rejected from a school they might otherwise be qualified for on the basis of what they did with their friends last Saturday night.