Tips for Teens to Prep their Online Footprint for College Admissions

As reported on Feb 25 at All Facebook, 82% of college admissions offices now use Facebook and social networking to approach and recruit students. The Kaplan Test Prep surveyed admissions officers in 2010, and released this statistic to All Facebook this month.

This statistic begs the question: how are admissions officers using FB profiles and other information available in a student’s online footprint, to screen and consider students? In short, does an embarassing picture or rude statement made online by a student have the potential to disqualify that student from college admission? Can negative online content put a student at a disadvantage?

At Least For Now, It’s Unclear How Far Admissions Officers Go in Considering Online Footprints of Potential Students

Commentary from All Facebook and Yale Daily News on the Kaplan survey findings, indicates that teens and parents should take note: although the survey did NOT find that most admissions offices use Facebook to screen students – at least not yet – they also reveal that teen profiles are being looked at, and could prove important to break ties between students when all other factors are equal.

At least one admission officer cited by All Facebook, stated that she does look at a student’s online footprint when considering an application. “As an interviewer for Harvard College,” she writes, “I do occasionally Google students I’m interviewing. So that will turn up FB profiles or anything else that is public. As far as I know, we are not given specific instructions to exclude it.”

OSS also reached out to a college prep consultant, a professional in the field who provides help and advice to parents with kids applying to college. He stated that “of course the admissions boards are looking” at the online profiles of kids online. And, in his opinion, online profiles influence decisions whether officers admit as much or not.

Consider the Positive as Well as the Potential Negative

The wise teen will consider the potential that their online footprint may prove to be a factor in the college admissions process. We advise teens to consider this in two ways:

  1. Consider the negative impression which your online footprint can make, if it includes embarassing pictures and negative statements.
  2. Consider the positive impression, as well, and what you can learn about a institution by looking at them online before you apply. Admissions boards are looking for better-rounded, socially active students – and online social engagement is part of the positive impression which students can achieve.

OSS has compiled tips and information below which have been shared by StudentAdvisor, HuffingtonPost, MoneyWatch, and others.

5 Tips for Minimizing Negative Footprint Content

  • Use privacy settings on your Facebook account, so that admissions officers cannot easily see your posts and pictures – unless you want them to do so. Information on using Facebook privacy settings can be found in many places online, including here at All Facebook.
  • On Facebook, don’t accept just anyone’s request to ‘Friend’ – and certainly avoid ‘fake’ Friend requests. This reduces the chance that your information and pictures could be shared by Friends who have not used Facebook’s privacy settings.
  • Google yourself – see what an admissions officer will see about you. You may be surprised to find pictures and information freely available, shared by people in your network – such as tagged pictures. If you find these, request that your friends delete them or make them private, as soon as possible. If you cannot get them or other negative content deleted, then as advised by Google you can “try to reduce its visibility in the search results by publishing useful, positive information about yourself…” In other words, drown out the negative with positive.
  • Consider using reputation management software like SocioClean to evaluate your online footprint. Take out and change whatever is flagged as potentially negative.
  • Consider minimizing use of Facebook games, which may release your private information to game developers. This includes quizzes, surveys, and lists along with games. Although Facebook reversed its original decision to release private information from gamer profiles to third-party gaming companies, they still seem intent to do so sometime in the future.

5 Tips for Mazimixing Positive Profile Impressions

  • Follow the social media feeds of any school to which you are planning to apply. Find out what interests them, their school values and concerns. Use this to inform your admission essay and other application material.
  • Get to know the educators at your prospective college of choice. See if any of them have blogs, and read them. Many are likely to have published work available online. See if any are on Twitter and follow them. Find out about their social footprints as a way to determine what yours should look like in order to stand out.
  • Use blogging tools – available on Facebook and elsewhere – to show off good writing skills and interests.
  • Use online associations to demonstrate good community service and involvement.
  • Consider including online content including videos and other multi-media, as part of your admission packet – talk about your educational goals and aspirations.
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Update: Natalie Munroe Claims “Below the Belt Tactics”

Following this week’s revelations by superintendent Robert Laws on statements made in Natalie Munroe’s blog, Munroe has posted a defense claiming that Laws resorted to “Below the Belt Tactics.”

In her new blog post, Munroe states that the words quoted by Laws which attacked special needs students were not her own. She explains that the words were part of a cartoon image, which she found online and included in a blog post. She further claims that she selected the image not to malign nor joke about those with special needs, but as an illustration of her point in the blog - which was that teacher-comments in report cards are designed to be unfailingly positive even when a child’s performance is below par.

OSS did a search of the exact phrase included in Munroe’s original blog post – in the cartoon image, as she described it. We found that, indeed, this phrase was not only part of a cartoon image but also a popular inscription on many blog sites. The popularity of the phrase apparently reached its height, in 2007 – well before Munroe’s blog post.

We even found this phrase available for sale on a T-shirt.

Online Freedom of Speech Goes Both Ways: PA Teacher is Right to Return to Blogging

Map of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

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Last week, an English teacher in Central Bucks County PA was suspended for making statements on her blog about her students, their parents, and other teachers at her school. Her statements were made between Aug ’09 and Nov ’10 – and came to light last week when a parent found her blog online. The parent expressed concern to the school about the teacher’s statements in the blog – and the school reacted. Within 15 min of arriving at school on Wed morning last week, the teacher was escorted out the door. Within 24 hours, the teacher was the subject of a full-blown media debate on social media in the schools.

The teacher’s statements were critical. Critical of students whom she describes as “disengaged, lazy whiners.” She also wrote that a student was “frightfully dim;” about another, “rat-like.” She stated that she wished she could tell a parent, that “I hate your kid.” Statements in the blog were also critical of parents and other teachers.

On Saturday, the teacher used her blog site to defend her statements, and to call attention to what she describes as “serious problems with our education system today.” She states that “schools and school districts and parents take teachers who enter the education field full of life and hope and a desire to change the world and positively impact kids, and beat the life out of them and villainize them and blame them for everything.”

The teacher’s attorney, Steve Rovner, stated that the school district “has no basis for firing her.” He went on to point out, that the school district has no policy governing social media in place – and that they specifically do not have a no-blogging policy in place.

Meantime, school and district administrators continue to “investigate” the blogging incidents. There are questions about whether the teacher wrote the blog on school time. [There is one blog entry in which the teacher states that she is blogging on school time, but she later clarifies that the school computer froze and she completed the blog in the evening from home.] The district superintendent stated last week that the statements made by the teacher on her blog site were “very egregious” and “certainly could result in termination.”

In Defense of the Teacher

While it is certainly true that teachers and others entrusted with our children are expected to adhere to a higher standard than most of us mortals, the teacher in this case is being unfairly pilloried in the press and is being unfortunately let down by her school district.

First, none of the comments in her blog named specific students nor teachers. Her comments amount to venting, and venting with a sometimes humerous bent. Second, the teacher did not make these comments meanly; she intended them for her known 9 followers – her family and friends. Admittedly, there is a lesson here in that comments made on the Internet are never private. However, she had no intention of hurting a student, parent, nor colleague.  Third, her comments are worth considering: all is not well in our schools and perhaps we should listen to teachers when they tell us that they feel unsupported.

Most importantly, however, the school district’s lack of a policy on social media invited problems. The district administrators – including superintendent N. Robert Laws himself – should take a hard look in the mirror.

Just as in the case of the CA student earlier this mo in which his comments on Facebook were considered to be free speech, I believe that the teacher in this case also has a right to free speech. As she says, why should teachers be restricted from doing something “that everyone else is allowed to do.” As long as here comments were not specific to an individual student, and they were not. As long as she blogged on her own time, and she says that she did.

I would hate to believe, as has been reported, that many teachers across the country have shut down their own blogs as a result of this story. We need the voices of teachers to be heard.

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