Social media in college and career counseling is a double-edged sword.
“A Zinch survey last year found that 68% of students used social media to research schools, and 38% said they used it as a research tool when deciding where to enroll. This has prompted college and universities to use social media as an informative recruitment tool, with 97% of schools using social media in their online recruitment efforts (up from 37% 10 years ago), according to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling” (Linked In).
This is huge. As a parent of a high-school senior this year, I can tell you that the constant bombardment of social media from universities is in full force: emails, requests for students to follow on Twitter, university mascot decals and cutouts sent to students with the requests to post them to Facebook in unique locations, LinkedIn requests from student ambassadors, to the traditional mail and phone calls. It’s constant and never-ending—and effective.
What’s interesting is that students are very aware of the social media coming in to them helping to encourage decisions (and to parents, encouraging payment methods and campus visits); however, students are less aware that, according to a 2013 Kaplan survey, 30% of college admissions counselors are using social media to look at candidates.
This has two issues: the first is that students should be careful of what their media presence is.
Think back, if you will, to when you were 15. Think of all the photos that you certainly would never have wanted anyone to see. Cringe worthy, right? Also, how did schools contact you? Paper mail to your staid home address “5656 MacArthur Court” or something non-descript like that. Now, everyone has access to all of your embarrassing photos on Facebook, your lifetime Twitterfeed history, and can see your email address. (firstname.lastname@example.org doesn’t seem so smart now, right?)
As an independent counselor I have turned social media to my advantage for my students. Here’s what I counsel:
What not to do: DrinkyWinky@email.com
What to do: Register for a plain email address for college correspondence (CathyGanley@email.com).
What’s smart to do: I have my savvier students register for college-specific email address (CathyGanleyStanford@email.com) and then port them all into one account. Now when colleges correspond with Cathy Ganley “Cathy Ganley” they will see that she’s so in love with Stanford that she even chose it for her email address.
Also, Email heads of departments and ask for personal interviews. Ask questions beforehand. Send thank you follow-ups. Ask for any help they might be able to give in the college admissions process. A personal relationship is never a bad thing. They know you want to get in; however, you should know that they want good, strong, engaged students. Email is a way to show this—in a technology most are not familiar with.
What not to do: Post anything you’d have to explain when you’re running for office.
What to do: Lock down your privacy settings. Make sure no one can see your photos, no one can see your friends, never ever post something that might embarrass you when you’re being considered for the Supreme Court, and make sure your settings alert you when some tags you in any post or photo.
What’s smart to do: Post pictures of yourself doing volunteer work, community service, participating in athletics, news clippings, links to your resume, links to LinkedIn. Be sure to change your privacy settings for those posts so others can see them.
What not to do: The basics. Avoid immature rants and Tweets.
What to do: Stay off Twitter unless you have something you really want to say about a personal project. Tweets are forever; they store them at the Library of Congress—they’re that kind of forever.
What’s smart to do: Highlight accomplishments. Ask insightful questions about your major. Praise programs. Thank a university for the tour.
4. Linked In
What not to do: Avoid mentioning those really sketchy jobs you’ve had. (I’m amazed when my students list their illegal stuff as jobs.)
What to do: Connect with professionals when possible.
What’s smart to do: Connect with heads of departments after you meet with them. Update it as often as possible as this is when university alumni might see you and put in a call.
What not to do: Avoid embarrassing stuff.
What to do: Post resumes, portfolios, accomplishments, links to performance, etc.
What’s smart to do: Apply for a QR code and put it on your correspondence and the like. Savvy professors will admire that you’re so up to speed while the less savvy will admire that you’re so far ahead of the(ir) game.
If college counselors are going to watch what you’re doing, you need to be careful what you show. However, you can make this work to your advantage too by showing them only what you want them to see.
A College Counselor who asks and answers the tough questions.