Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 10:50 AM ET, 02/ 3/2011

The fine art of polishing your online persona

By Jenna Johnson
Jenna Johnson

Today's guest blogger is Gabriel Shaoolian, the CEO and Founder of Blue Fountain Media, a development and online marketing company headquartered in New York.

Your high school career is coming to an end and college is already on the horizon. You've worked hard all these years, putting together a terrific academic record that will hopefully lead to acceptance to the college of your choice.

Your applications have all been submitted -- but you could still be sending info about yourself to the admissions committee without realizing it.

All of your hard work could possibly be undone by a not-so-great online and social media footprint. You probably didn't think a college admissions officer would look at your Facebook page, MySpace homepage, Twitter feed or the videos you uploaded to YouTube... but there's a chance that's exactly what they're doing.

As college admissions get more competitive, some college admissions officers are using every tool at their disposal to evaluate candidates -- that means possibly Googling their applicants.

There are a few reasons for this:

• So many students are getting professional or other outside help with their applications. Whether that help comes from a school college counselor, a "helicopter parent" or a consultant, college applications can easily become sanitized. A Google search gives admissions officers a more honest view of the potential enrollee.

• Not every applicant is 100 percent honest. A Google search can be used to check up on claimed awards, honors, performances, etc. If you are caught in a lie on your application, your admissions chances can be greatly reduced.

• Finalists for scholarships and honors programs. Often, a scholarship will come down to a choice between a handful of seemingly deserving candidates -- and a Google search can add more factors to the tough decision.

Two years ago, Kaplan Inc. surveyed admissions officers at 320 of the 500 highest rated colleges in America. At the time, 10 percent of the admissions officers said that they did online background checks on applicants. Of that group, 38 percent said that the search results had a "negative impact" on the candidate's application. (Disclosure from Jenna: Kaplan is owned by The Washington Post Company.)

Since then, Facebook has more than doubled and Twitter has gained popularity. So, what can a high school senior (or underclassman) do to clean up his or her online act?

Erasing the negative
I hate to put it this way, but I always encourage students to look at their personal web pages through their grandmother's eyes. Ask yourself, "Does my content pass the Grandma test?"

While college admissions officers understand that high school students don't have to live like monks, they are also on the lookout for a variety of "red flags."

No matter how common marijuana use may be, they don't want to see pictures of you smoking a bong or otherwise clearly engaging in illegal activity. A picture of you with a beer in your hand is likely not going to keep you out of most schools, but a series of photographs showing you drunk at different venues is going to raise more than a few eyebrows.

Other red flags to watch out for:

* Excessive profanity

* Overtly sexual photos

* Racist comments (or comments that can be perceived to be racist)

* Sexist comments (or comments that can be perceived to be sexist)

* Homophobic language, T-shirts, comments or behaviors

If you are willing to take this step (and not every high school senior is) have your parents do an inventory of your social media venues. If this is absolutely out of the question, then try to put yourself in their shoes.

Creating a positive impression

The good news is that your social media footprint could possibly enhance your chances at college admission. I strongly suggest the following:

• Blogging: A blog is a great way to demonstrate both your abilities as a writer and, just as importantly, demonstrate your passions, interests, and areas of expertise. Your formal application gives you somewhat limited ways to express yourself (essays). A blog can be a better vehicle for letting your real personality shine through.

• Videos and vlogs: A creative, intelligent and/or funny video can tell an admissions officer a great deal about you. Far better than a mere essay, a video can convey the "real you" and can set you apart from other applicants.

• Artistic prowess: If you are a performer, show yourself in action. If you are in theater, get videos of your best scenes. If you are an artist, display your portfolio online.

• Athletic prowess: Not only can a great "highlight" film capture the attention of admissions officers at the schools you've applied to, they may also capture the attention of coaches from other schools who may be offering both admissions and scholarships.

Good luck!
Taking the time to perform an online inventory (simply Google yourself) and then taking the necessary steps to maximize your online footprint could possibly make the difference between that nasty thin envelope in April and the wonderful, congratulatory, "You're In!" letter.

Do you still have questions about Facebook and your online persona? Ask some experts! Jenna will be online at 1 p.m. Thursday with two Facebook reps to answer questions from readers. Send us your questions now!

Campus Overload is a daily must-read for all college students. Make sure to bookmark You can also follow me on Twitter and fan Campus Overload on Facebook.

By Jenna Johnson  | February 3, 2011; 10:50 AM ET
Categories:  Admissions  | Tags:  Facebook, admissions  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Facebook reps online today to answer questions
Next: Culture shock? Proud East Coaster now a West Coast college student


Wait- so according to the Washington Post, it's ok for high school kids to be drinking, as long as they don't have more than one or two pictures of themselves with a beer posted online?

Who vets these articles before they're published?

Posted by: dcn8v | February 4, 2011 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Wait- so according to the Washington Post, it's ok for high school kids to be drinking, as long as they don't have more than one or two pictures of themselves holding a beer online?

Who vets these articles before they're published?

Posted by: dcn8v | February 4, 2011 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company