Picture this: two students are applying for admission to the same college. On paper, both applicants are identical. Both students have the same grade point average, SAT scores, class rank, glowing recommendations, and a well written essay. However, despite both applicants meeting the admission standards of the institution, one applicant is accepted and the other is denied. What was the deciding factor? The two minute video below is a must watch for one possible explanation.
Before becoming a teacher I worked as an Assistant Director of Admissions. I reviewed applications, interviewed students, and made admission decisions. Back then, if an applicant met our admission criteria (GPA, SAT, and class rank) they were typically accepted. We also considered the applicant’s essay and recommendations which elaborated on the student’s character, motivation level, and potential for success. If an applicant fell short of our admission standards or if we had any concerns about his or her ability to succeed, we would schedule an interview. The purpose of the interview was to gain a better understanding of who the applicant was as a person and determine if in fact he or she had the academic background and the emotional maturity to thrive as a member of our student body. Back then, we didn’t have the ability to do something that today’s college admission representatives can routinely do with applicants in lieu of an interview.
We didn’t have Google.
Today, rather than invite a student into the admission office for an interview, colleges and universities have the ability to type an applicant’s name into the Google search box and gain a much better and deeper understanding of that applicant. And in some instances, the results of that search could determine if a student is accepted or denied. So, what exactly are schools looking for when conducting a Google search? What can you do to ensure that when you are Googled by your dream school that the results will coincide with the person you have presented in your application materials? Read on to find out.
WHAT SCHOOLS ARE SEEKING
In 2013, there aren’t too many colleges and universities out there that aren’t utilizing social media not only for marketing and recruiting purposes, but also for screening purposes. Most schools have Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts and some schools are even on the Instagram bandwagon. Why? Because schools know social networking is popular with their target demographic. Colleges know the power of a trending hashtag or the latest YouTube video gone viral. However, it is imperative that you realize schools are also seeking applicants who will positively represent the brand image they wish to project.
So as you prepare to get your college applications together, you may want to consider being proactive and do a little Googleing of your own. You may be surprised (or shocked and embarrassed) by what you find. The good news is that you have full and complete control over the results that appear when you type your name into the search box. This is what’s called your “Google ranking.”
I want nothing more than for you to impress a college admissions representative or a potential employer with what they find when they Google your name. I want to help you help yourself. I want you to gain admission into your dream school, land that paid internship and ultimately, achieve your career goals. So here are some useful tips to keep in mind, whether you will be graduating this year, or you are starting your very first year of high school. And please remember students…this is not meant to be a lecture. The following tips are designed to help prepare you to achieve your goals and have the most successful future possible.
TAKE A LOOK AT TWITTER
When you Google yourself (both on the web and an image search) what do you find? If your Twitter account is set to public, it is highly likely a link to your Twitter profile page will appear. If this is the case, and a college admission officer were to read your Tweets, what would he or she see? Would he or she be impressed? Are you Tweeting links to useful resources, using meaningful, appropriate hashtags, and having conversations with industry professionals? Are you following individuals or organizations that connect to your intended major and/or career goal? If you can answer, “yes, that’s exactly how I am using Twitter!” then congratulations! You are a “terrific Tweeter!” You are likely similar to my former students Sam and Krysta, who have both used Twitter to build impressive professional learning networks and are now off to Bentley and Suffolk University.
On the other hand, if your Tweets are making reference to inappropriate topics, have links to your equally inappropriate Instagram account images, and are laced with profanity and vulgar hashtags, then unfortunately, you may fall into the category of a “terrible Tweeter.” Perhaps it is time to reevaluate how you are using Twitter. If you want to go from being a terrible to a terrific Tweeter, my advice would be to start following people and companies that are related to the field you wish to pursue when you graduate. Tweet links to interesting articles. Find popular hashtags professionals in your industry are using. Once you adopt some of these strategies, you will start to be taken seriously and you may even gain followers who are industry experts…people you can learn from!
For example, Krysta plans to pursue a career in entertainment broadcasting and this is clear based on her Tweets and who she follows. Creating a Twitter stream that shows you are serious about your future career goal will undoubtedly be impressive to the admission team at the University of X should they decide to Google you and access your Twitter account. If you wish to continue using Twitter solely as a means to communicate with your close friends, and you keep your account public, you need to realize that anyone, including the admission representative who may end up reading your application or a potential future employer, can read your Tweets. They can also see the pictures and videos you link on Twitter. And when it comes to Tweeting pictures…Tweet wisely. Below is an example of Sam’s “dream board” that she recently Tweeted. This dream board serves as a constant reminder that Sam’s goal is to work at Google. I’m pretty confident that dream will become a reality for her! Again, this is an example of how you could be using Twitter: to showcase your future career ambitions and the fact that you are goal-oriented.
And speaking of pictures…
A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS
I know how popular Instagram is (especially now that video capability has been added) and that most of you have an account. Like Twitter, if your account is public and/or if you link your Instagram pictures to Twitter, you need to take an inventory of the images you are voluntarily publishing online. Like Twitter, you need to reflect on the types of images your are posting on Instagram. Would a college or university “like” the pictures you post? What words would they use to describe your images?
Creative? Artistic? Humorous? OR… Disgusting? Illegal? Offensive? I would hope it would be any of the former.
A picture really is worth a thousand words. Photos can speak volumes as to who you are as a person and what is important to you. Below is a picture from Krysta’s Instagram account that she recently posted and used the hashtags #microphone, #broadcasting, #perfection.
I have seen some absolutely amazing images on Instagram, but I have also seen some that are appalling. Remember, the images you share on Instagram are a reflection of you. Instagram can definitely be used to share images of the people, places, and things that you love, are inspired by, and find interesting or funny. It can be used to show you are a well-rounded person with many interests. However, should you choose to post images that are questionable in terms of their appropriateness, then you run the risk of projecting a negative image; one that could possibly hinder your chances of attaining your future academic and career goals.
A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT FACEBOOK
I’m not going to spend much time at all on Facebook because I know that most of you have either tightened up your privacy settings or, if you are like 13 year-old Ruby Karp, you simply aren’t using Facebook anymore.
Like Ruby, it’s probable that ever since your parents, and your grandparents for that matter, started using Facebook you have decided to move on. With that being said, this is a just a quick reminder that if you are still active on Facebook, you should be aware of your privacy settings, but also be aware of what you are posting.
I’ve heard countless stories of people being asked to log into their Facebook accounts during job interviews or people (law enforcement officials, teachers, politicians, doctors, athletes, etc.) who have posted negative status updates about a current employer and have been fired as a result. I’m not saying that it is right for people to go into your Facebook account or ask you to log in during an interview, but it is happening, and you probably know of similar stories. So, just to be on the safe side, why not keep your status updates and comments positive and appropriate?
This year you will hear a lot about digital tattoos, versus footprints. Why? Whether you are walking on the beach, in the snow, or on a muddy trail you will leave a footprint…which can be erased. Unlike footprints, which can disappear, anything you put on line stays there… forever. It’s a permanent mark. So, as you begin yet another year of school there is no doubt you will continue to socialize with friends and have a great time. There is no doubt you will want to document your experiences online through the social networks you belong to. You will continue to share, Tweet, post, comment, like, reply, pin, and so on and so fourth. As you continue to interact online, just remember that every impression adds to your digital tattoo. What do you want that tattoo to look like? What do you want it to represent? Remember, the marks you make are permanent. You have full and complete control over how your tattoo will turn out. I hope it comes out the way you want it to.