How to Use Social Media to Get Into College

Is your online activity hurting your chances of getting into college?

ByABC News
October 19, 2012, 3:06 PM

Oct. 19, 2012— -- Like so many American high school seniors, 17-year-old Rachel Murphy from Clifton Park, N.Y., is beginning to apply to college.

"My top choice is Bentley University," Rachel said. "I'm applying early decision. I want to go to school for marketing."

But as colleges become more competitive, Rachel and a growing number of students are working with admissions coaches to increase their chances of getting into their dream schools.

One of the toughest challenges facing so many prospective college students is social media.

"Most kids have no idea how important it is that their profile[s] online -- Twitter, Facebook, other social media spaces -- need to be appropriate for the admissions process," said Dean Skarlis, president of The College Advisor of New York. "Most kids don't even realize what's appropriate and what's not because they're 16, 17 and their idea of what might be appropriate is very different than that of a college admissions person."

Even Rachel, who takes AP classes and is careful about what she posts on her Facebook page, began to worry after a college tour guide warned her about social media.

"He basically warned us that the admissions counselors will also look at our Facebooks and any social media that we have to try and get a better picture of what kind of person we really are," Rachel said. "It was definitely kind of a scary thought at first. I immediately was trying to go through my Facebook in my head and think of anything that could be questionable on my Facebook."

So ABC News asked Skarlis to take a look at Rachel's online activity. His analysis showed that even the most upstanding students can hurt themselves with what they post on social media.

"Because you are applying to business schools, you really should look through this and make the most professional appearance that you can," Skarlis told Rachel.

He took a look all the way back to when Rachel was in middle school and first started using social media.

"A lot of people don't understand it's archived and it's available," Skarlis said. "You might never look back there. But an admissions person might do that."

He also suggested students search themselves on Google, something a college admissions person is also likely to do.

"It may not do the trick to have privacy settings because the Internet is huge and vast and ever-expanding, and sometimes if you Google a person you can find out a lot more from one of those social media sites that sneaks through those filters," Skarlis said.

After deleting a video and reviewing a few pictures, Rachel's Facebook profile presents a much better picture to the colleges she's applied to.

     1. Keep a clean account free of inappropriate postings and pictures from the minute you set up your account.

     2. Know what your friends are posting, as well, and make sure they aren't posting inappropriate pictures or videos of you.

     3. Tighten privacy settings so that only your friends can see posts.

     4. Google yourself so you know what is out there. Even though you set your privacy settings on social media, search engines can work around those filters.

     5. Remember to go through old postings, too. College admissions people often look all the way back to when you first joined social media.

     6. Check your social media pages about once a week.

     7. Rule of thumb: If you don't want your parents to see it, take it off.