Today's students have grown up with social media and online technology, so naturally, they think they're experts at using it. But like everything else, how you behave online can help you or hurt you when it comes to the college admissions process in ways that you may not immediately consider.

That's because admissions officers are very savvy when it comes to social media. A growing number of them research prospects via their personal social media accounts such as Instagram or Twitter. In a 2013 study by Kaplan Test Prep, 30 percent of admissions officers who do so said that they had uncovered information that hurt an applicant's chances. I'm betting that's even higher today.

Beyond that, many officers are also are watching your online interactions to see how, and how much, you interact with their college. So to get the most out of their time online, I encourage high school students to develop good social media habits early, and to go further than just Googling themselves to make sure nothing embarrassing shows up.

 Clean up your profiles. Most students have long ago learned the lesson that anything they post online could come back to haunt them. But remember that this can include photos and material posted by others who tag you, or a friend list that includes numerous individuals with inappropriate photos or content. Even if you think you have your profile privacy locked down tight, someone might be able to locate your comments or photos through a friend who is more lax about privacy. And remember, what may seem innocent to you may not look the same way when taken out of context — an admissions officer may not get your sarcasm in online comments or blog posts, or may not realize that is just lemonade in the red Solo cup you and your friends are holding at the beach. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. It's not censorship, it's just common sense.

 When you've identified schools you like, get involved with them online, whether that's via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest. Follow their accounts and actively like or comment on topics of interest to you. If you visit a campus, tweet about it or tag the college in any photos you post. Admissions officers will take your social media activity as a sign of demonstrated interest in their college, which is becoming a more important factor in the admissions process.

 Once you've applied to a school, establish and log into your applicant portal regularly. Again, this is taken as a sign of interest in that particular campus. If you log in once and then forget it, the school may assume you're not that serious.

 When you are in the thick of application season, check your email every day. This is something that I find many students must be reminded to do, as they're much more likely to text or use Instagram or Twitter. However, this is how colleges will send information about deadlines, missing requirements, and other news, so it's important to stay on top of it.

 While you're at it, get a professional-sounding email address, preferably incorporating your name. It may have been cute to sign up as pinkdinosaur@hotmail.com when you got your first email address in elementary school. But now you will be using that email address with admissions officers, future professors, and your references. Make sure it's something neutral and adult.

 

Donna Spann is the CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college advisor for 12 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career exploration and the college application process.

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