Does social media matter to university applications? Yes, yes, and yes again.
Harvard University made the headlines when in 2021 it rescinded offers to “at least” 10 students. This was due to obscene social media posts to Facebook.
So if you think your social media presence doesn’t matter when it comes to winning places at prestigious higher education institutions, think again!
If you still have doubts, take a look at the data.
- Almost 3/4 of Higher Education institutions either monitor social media as part of admissions decision-making or review social media brought to their attention.
- 1/4 do so “regularly and routinely.”
- 12% of those who do not monitor social media as part of the admissions process are considering doing so.
- Of the total who monitor social media, 11% have denied admission based on social media content.
- Of the total who monitor social media 7% have rescinded an offer of admission.
- About one in ten who monitor social media have a formal policy on how to do so.
Social Media Monitoring and the Admissions Process Results of the AACRAO
This data comes from July 2017, so social media monitoring is likely to be even more significant today.
So, yes, you need to go “Meta” curricular – but what does this actually mean?
Schools and consultants often stress the importance of undertaking extra (or super/supra) curricular activities. These activities can help a student’s application stand out.
This is particularly important in the case of applying to an higher education institution that takes a holistic approach to admissions.
The range of options both academic (e.g., pre-college summer courses) and other (e.g., athletics, society affiliation, volunteering, etc.) are numerous.
But what social media does the student have about her various engagements and interests?
So why should social media matter to University applications?
Here are the answers:
The impact of your online presence is wide-ranging and long-lasting
As a University Admissions Advisor, I often see the important but overlooked part of a student’s identity is their online (including social media) presence.
Hours of a given day are invested, with varying degrees of effort, in establishing virtual representation on social media. Being aware of this digital footprint is becoming increasingly important.
Used wisely, your virtual presence, or, as we’d like to call it “meta-curricular” activity can be used to affect positively the narrative you are presenting in your applications.
Consider Mary. There is a Mary we see and interact with in the real world: the stellar student applying to top-tier universities. She is an impressive athlete and an inspiring volunteer.
At the same time, Mary is expressing herself via Tiktok, Reddit, etc.
The former is an exemplary person. The latter might be the complete opposite, expressing unacceptable views and/or engaging in questionable activity.
For many people like our fictional Mary, it can be more of a caricature than an accurate depiction.
Nonetheless, it is in various ways reflective of the person – there is always some truth in a caricature, after all. It’s a facet of the individual.
Importantly, for Mary and other university applicants, online presence is today, more than ever, part of the application process.
Just as admissions offices are checking essays, reports, letters of recommendation, and transcripts, they may also be checking through your social media presence.
So how can you ensure your online profile helps rather than destroys your chance of a place at the college of your dreams?
PR is the answer: it’s not just for big business!
There are multiple cases of applicants having their university offers rescinded after incriminating evidence of them is found online.
Granted, universities won’t usually spend private-eye levels of time and energy combing the internet in search of the ‘real’ virtual you. But that doesn’t mean some won’t undertake quick searches to see if anything noteworthy comes up.
Alternatively, they might invite you to share your online presence via the application (see ‘3’ below).
If you are anything like our Mary above, you don’t want to get caught out by a simple Google search.
Check for yourself that there is no compromising material associated with you online. (This can include any comments which you have left on message boards.)
There are even a few programs available, specifically geared toward students, which help you in your PR campaign to ensure your online presence is squeaky clean.
Be the agent, not the patient: control the message
Even if your avatar is more like Mary in real life, there is real value in promoting your online self to universities. Finetuning a LinkedIn profile, for example, or maintaining a personal website detailing your musings, portfolio of work (artistic or otherwise), etc., could not only help your aesthetic – think of it as putting on a virtual suit and tie; it could also help focus any prying eye’s attention toward the things you want it to see.
Universities are increasingly asking students to submit personal videos and or links to their online activity. Be prepared. Oblige them. But in doing so ensure you control the central message that your online presence is conveying!
For a free 30 min consultation with Daniele, get in touch with us at TutorsPlus today and he can explain in more detail how social media matters to University applications.
Dr Daniele Labriola
University Applications Advisor
Daniele, BA, UC Berkeley, MLitt & PhD, St Andrews University, has dedicated over 10 years to assisting families and schools, on how best to prepare students for the top tier of higher education.
Dr Labriola’s years in Education have taken him across North America, Europe, and Asia, advising and lecturing on higher education. He has published academic articles, as well as contributed essays on university preparation and application, for various media, including newspapers, journals and government-sponsored education organizations such as the Fulbright Commission.
Here is some additional information on references for UCAS.
The full aacrao survey is available here.