Online Reputation Guide for College-Bound Students

Introduction

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College-bound teenagers have much more to worry about today than we did when we were their age. Aside from making sure their grades, college application essays, letters of recommendation, SAT scores, extra-curricular activities, and community service are all up to par, kids nowadays have to also put some serious effort into managing their online reputations. More specifically, high schoolers need to ensure that their online persona reflects positively on them.

The Internet is permanent, plain and simple. Imagine a bathroom wall full of graffiti, except this wall can be read by anyone with an Internet connection, including college admissions counselors and future employers. Most teens don't fully comprehend how much information about them is actually publicly available, nor do they realize the consequences they may face due to that information.

A digital footprint can last a lifetime unless an individual diligently practices online reputation management (monitoring). In this article, we will examine what every college-bound teen and their parents need to know: the importance of managing an online reputation.

How Colleges Use Social Media

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Many colleges use social media to create online communities where they can engage in open dialogue with current and prospective students. Schools set up profile pages and discuss topics important to their community such as admissions information, university news and events, factoids and more. Some institutions even use Facebook and other social networking sites to allow freshman students to choose their own roommates. [8]

According to a 2009 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research in cooperation with the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), colleges use social media for several different purposes. The study surveyed approximately 500 admissions offices at accredited, 4-year schools across the United States and found that 33% of the schools maintain an online blog, 29% use social networking Web sites, 27% have digital bulletin boards, 19% use vlogs (video blogging), and 14% actually produce and publish podcasts. [1] Looking at those stats, it is clear that social media has made a significant impact on how schools of higher education reach their communities at large, but is looking at prospective students' online profiles right?

"It is an opportunity to learn about people's interest, the kinds of things they are engaged in, in terms of community-related issues and social issues," S. Craig Watkins, associate professor of radio, TV, and film at the University of Texas at Austin told The Chronicle of Higher Education. "In that sense, it does provide a window into a person's life, and into a person's interests that can be a value to an admissions committee." [7]

How Social Media 'Mistakes' Can Adversely Affect College Admission

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The aforementioned 2009 UMass Dartmouth/NACAC study also found that one quarter of the admissions offices surveyed admitted to using both social networking sites and search engines to investigate prospective students who were up for scholarships or candidates for "high-demand" programs. The reason? Apparently, the close scrutiny was done to protect the school from "potential embarrassment." [1]

"Many colleges are nervous about ethical and legal considerations, and are hesitant to cross student's personal space," says Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes, director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and one half of the research team behind the study. "There is no clear legal ground that covers social media, so academics as well as business people are hesitant about how they use the information they find online." [2]

Still, prospective students should be careful and take online reputation management seriously. A 2008 Kaplan survey of admissions officers from 320 top colleges across the country found that 10% admitted to using social networking sites to assess prospective students. [9] Similarly, 9% of business schools, 15% of law schools, and 14% of medical schools also reported using social networking sites to help evaluate students during the admissions process. [10]

Moreover, 38% of the 320 admissions officers who responded found something online which had a negative impact on their evaluation of the student. [9] So, what types of things are these admissions counselors finding exactly that would cause such a negative response?

According to Kaplan's findings, one admissions officer tracked down an applicant's social network profile only to see him bragging online about how easy the application process was for him, and how he wasn't actually interested in attending anyway. The student was promptly rejected based on this discovery. [10]

A recent webcast produced by the Wall Street Journal's WSJ On Campus and Unigo featured a panel of college admissions counselors who responded to questions about social media and the college admissions process. They highlighted the importance of managing one's online reputation.

"I think students have to expect that if there's anything public, it's possible that we might see it," said Janet Rapeleye, dean of admissions at Princeton University. "If there is something that is compromising on your Facebook page, or that you have done on the Web that you maybe not are proud of, you should probably do everything you can to get that cleaned up before you get into the admissions process." [4]

When the panel was asked to provide a specific example of why a student might have an acceptance offer rescinded, Seth Allen, dean of admissions and financial aid at Grinnell College in Iowa chimed in, "Well, one example I can think of is a student posting about getting into one of our schools and talking about all the drugs and alcohol that they'll join in over the next four years…depending on how they portray that, that could be very serious." [3]

Another obvious example of how an individual's online reputation may affect college admission is if a high school student actually infringes on their future college's honor code. "Ethical issues…related to our own honor code," said Nancy Hargrave Meislahn, dean of admissions and financial aid at Wesleyan University, "…a violation that could potentially look like an honor code violation would absolutely be cause for concern." [3] For this reason, many college admissions counselors actually recommend that interested students become familiar with their colleges' honor codes by the time they reach 11th grade.

Friending admissions officers online is also considered unethical behavior by many. This goes for their overeager parents as well. Alejandro Sosa, a sophomore at American University in Washington, D.C. (this author's undergraduate alma mater), told USA Today that friending a college admissions officer is similar to friending a boss.

"It's a professional setting," said Sosa, "so anything inappropriate on my site would reflect negatively on me, and I don't think that that is a risk I would like to take." [2]

10 Tips for College-Bound Teens Using Social Media

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SafetyWeb is an invaluable Internet monitoring tool and Facebook monitoring application for college-bound teens and their parents to help manage online reputations. For a month, the service scours hundred of websites daily to find any and all public information about the teenager, making it a convenient reputation management solution for parents and college applicants. If any inappropriate photos, videos, or content postings become public- the SafetyWeb subscriber is immediately notified via a digital report and email or text message that clearly indicates the reason for concern. Additionally, SafetyWeb helps subscribers remove unwanted online content by offering step by step solutions, or working with a site's administrator directly through the 1-888-SAFE-WEB customer support line.

Resources

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SafetyWeb is an invaluable Internet monitoring tool and Facebook monitoring application for college-bound teens and their parents to help manage online reputations. For a month, the service scours hundred of websites daily to find any and all public information about the teenager, making it a convenient reputation management solution for parents and college applicants. If any inappropriate photos, videos, or content postings become public- the SafetyWeb subscriber is immediately notified via a digital report and email or text message that clearly indicates the reason for concern. Additionally, SafetyWeb helps subscribers remove unwanted online content by offering step by step solutions, or working with a site's administrator directly through the 1-888-SAFE-WEB customer support line.