Each year, more and more of the world’s most talented students compete for the coveted opportunity to receive an Ivy League education. As a result of this intense competition, serious applicants with hard earned credentials now need to further distinguish themselves against other equally qualified peers. As admissions offices continually search for new ways to responsibly distinguish between the “best of the best,” social media’s role has grown in importance.
Beyond random social media searches by admissions officers (Kaplan’s 2014 finding of 35% applies to this practice), there are two additional ways social media plays into admissions decisions.
First, schools are inviting applicants to engage with their campus community via their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and even Snapchat feeds. While schools may view this as a marketing and recruitment effort, students should be viewing this as a way to make a positive first impression and to demonstrate interest in their dream school. Schools monitor their social media feeds and see all school mentions whether or not hashtagged. With an optimized social media presence, students can freely interact with schools knowing that someone on the other side will likely click on their profile links to learn more about them.
Second, schools are using social media’s “big data” search function to identify and hand select students who can fill a university’s specific needs. This targeted recruitment helps schools balance diversity, academic interests, activities and leadership positions. Students who want to be “found” need to build a robust, public, and searchable presence across social media platforms.
When viewed with this wider lens, social media can open doors of opportunity never before available to college applicants. Here are specific steps you can take to maximize your social media presence and increase the chances of acceptance to your first choice school:
- Use Facebook to Your Advantage. Although students are deserting Facebook for Instagram and Snapchat, admissions officers and 1.3 billion other people remain active Facebook users. Facebook possesses incredible search capabilities and chances are Facebook is still the place where colleges will look to learn more about you and your character. It is also likely the place, together with LinkedIn, where colleges will search for recruits. With teen social chatter moving to other platforms, Facebook has become a great platform for showcasing talents, community engagement, and accomplishments without interfering with your social activities. Keep your pure social activities elsewhere (remembering that Snapchats are not guaranteed to disappear and that you are never truly anonymous on Yik Yak, Unseen, After School or Whisper). Use Facebook to tell your story and present your authentic self. Complete your Facebook “About” section, check your privacy settings to make certain you can be easily found and drop the aliases to reduce the risk of mistaken identity.
- Get on LinkedIn. Understand that LinkedIn for high school students is not about what you have done but about what you aspire to do. All Ivy League schools have a presence on LinkedIn and they encourage applicant engagement with faculty, alumni, current students and administration. List your activities, organizations, advanced classes and electives. Connect with teachers and counselors and ask them for LinkedIn recommendations. Follow and interact with your favorite schools on University Pages.
- Complete Your Google+ Profile. It is important to own your Google search results and nothing helps more than completing your Google+ profile. The Google+ “About” page is easy to use and provides a great place to tell your story. Essentially, Google+ can serve as your personal online landing page by including links to all your other social media profiles, personal websites and blogs.
- Rethink Twitter. Twitter is an extremely powerful networking tool that builds influence and awareness over time. If you have been using Twitter as a way to communicate with friends or sharing Instagram photos, now is the time to start fresh by coming up with a Twitter handle that incorporates your name or some recognizable derivative thereof and write a serious profile description. Follow colleges and professors to see what they are sharing and who they follow. Search for people who share your interests, academic pursuits as well as influencers who are experts in your field of interest. Regularly review tweets and engage with this community by retweeting and adding comments as appropriate.
These suggestions represent a small sampling of what students can do to enhance their Ivy League candidacy. Establishing a blog early on in high school is another great way to create content demonstrating that your passions, activities and service were not conjured up simply to impress admissions officers.
Learning to get comfortable with documenting your passions and accomplishments on social media is also important for academic and athletic scholarship reviews, internships, graduate schools and employment. The time to get started is now.
About Social Assuirty: Alan Katzman is the founder of Social Assurity, a leading social media advisory service for high school and college students. Alan has lectured extensively on the topic of social media optimization for students, has published numerous articles on the topic, and is considered an authority on the strategic use of social media for today’s youth.