Protecting the #Classof2015: Social Media Readiness

hashtagAs high school juniors enter the full swing of the college readiness season, counselors need to remind them to manage their social media presences. Last year, 31 percent of college admissions officers who participated in a Kaplan phone questionnaire claimed that they visited applicants’ social media pages, up five percent from the previous year.

Combine that statistic with the extraordinary voyeurism teens engage in on a daily basis through Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and Twitter, and we have a growing challenge.

With that said, below are some tips to offer teens and their families. If your students scoff at your recommendations, ask parents or other mentors to join your efforts.

  1. Use a professional email address for communicating with colleges. Last year, I met a young man whose first choice college was USC. I was quite surprised to see his bruinboy1 email handle. When I mentioned the potential irony of his email address, he agreed to use his school email address for college communications. Other students, who do not have access to a school email address, can create a simple yahoo or gmail address. These addresses can also be very useful for keeping all college emails in one place.
  2. Be a safe user of social media. Of course, the majority of students use social media wisely. But they can’t always control what others in their pictures do or who else may share their posts, tweets, or pictures. We need to ask students to make hard decisions and not allow anyone they don’t know to see their posts or pictures. They need to realize that admissions officers want students who respect their colleges and themselves. So while FB makes it difficult, we need to encourage students to use all privacy controls available, especially preventing anyone they don’t know from tagging them in pictures or sharing their pictures or posts. We also need to make sure their profile pictures are G rated.
  3. Change their social media names. Students should not be easy to find by someone who doesn’t know them. So they don’t need to use their full names on FB and other social media. First and middle names work and so do creative name plays.
  4. Make themselves unfindable. Facebook users are also trackable by their email addresses. This reason alone is good enough for creating a new college email address. This way an admissions officer can’t find them with an email search.
  5. Avoid red cups. Party pictures are ubiquitous. I just ask students to avoid embarrassing party pictures, especially any with infamous red cups. They need to remember that, while they can remove pictures from their pages, they can’t remove themselves from others’ pages.
  6. Rethink their friends. Social media has changed teenage conceptions of friendships. Followers can re-tweet comments with their own hashtags. Online friends they don’t know can share their posts and pictures. And allowing friends of friends to see their posts can lead directly to college admissions officers who may be friends with teachers and counselors. Our students need to rethink their friendship lists as they enter the college readiness season and either refine these lists, narrow their privacy controls, or sanitize their posts.

It is increasingly evident that students need mentors–whether counselors, teachers, or family members–to help them realize their social media lives will live with them forever. Since colleges are increasingly finding their applicants’ online worlds relevant, we need to include professional social media conduct on our junior college readiness checklists.

What are your strategies for helping students stay college ready online? Post your ideas and comments below.

By Rebecca Joseph



  1. Dr. Joseph,

    The mention of the Kaplan survey raises an interesting question regarding the extent to which social media presence should be considered (if at all) in the admission process. There is certainly something to be said for information in the public record being fair game but I also wonder how fair it is for admission committees to use this information in a punitive manner given that we likely did not grow up in an age of spreadable/social media and have had the benefit of our childhood indiscretions largely forgotten by time.

    Moreover, if we are willing to consider the negatives presented by social media, shouldn’t we also endeavor to understand the ways in which social media presence can be beneficial to students? Part of addressing this question is, I think, reassessing what exactly higher education is designed to do for students and what role college admission plays in the scheme of things. I am a strong advocate for work that comes out of things like the Digital Media and Learning Conference ( that encompasses, but also eclipses the basic steps you outline in your article. I would challenge good admission officers to think deeply about the ways in which the space created by social media is not simply voyeuristic but also contains some of the best elements of what makes play incredibly powerful for developing students (see Ito et al., Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out and Can we, for example, take a cue from The Lego Movie ( to think about how concepts like remix and appropriation function in spaces of play and social media? How does a deep respect for the possibility of these kinds of activities change the way that we investigate students online? How do students actually use social media and how might this differ from what we might observe or how we think that they use it?

    Ultimately, what I think is necessary is a clear declaration of how and why social media presence is considered in the process by officers. In short, I want students to be able to understand the rules that they are playing by. Simply accepting that college admission is incorporating a student’s social media presence without providing public justification for doing so would only increase the pressure that students feel to mold themselves into a particular kind of applicant—only to be then criticized later for being too “cookie cutter.”

    Do students in this context really need protecting or are we really calling for a realignment in values between the culture of youth and that of parents/counselors?

    -Chris Tokuhama

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