“The Perils of Social Media In the College Admission Process”

By Peter Van Buskirk

I need to make a confession: I’m “old school” when it comes to technology. Having grown up with corded phones, typewriters and shuttered cameras, the era of iPhones and instant communication is a bit daunting. I don’t say this with any sense of pride or satisfaction, but the truth is I only know just enough about my laptop and cell phone to function in the twenty-first century!

That said, I’m more than a little concerned by the current fascination with social media. While I enjoy the benefits of being able to convey educational messages to groups and individuals around the globe with a simple keystroke, I am reminded daily of the potential for misuse and abuse of the technology. This vulnerability is a risk for any of us; however, it is most prevalent in the lives of young people who tend to communicate thoughts, words and images somewhat impulsively and without regard to their potential impact or viewership.

Imagine, for example, an intimate “selfie” or an experiment with “sexting” that suddenly goes viral on Instagram, or a profanity-laced text or Facebook post that is circulated beyond your immediate friendship group. Consider the seemingly innocent comments on high school crush pages that escalate into hurtful, public references or, worse yet, cyber-bullying. Content that you once regarded as personal and protected is now out there for the world to see.

My purpose in writing is not to demonize social media. Quite frankly, there is a body of research that suggests most engagement in some type of social media tends to be positive and constructive. Rather, I want to urge caution. Disregard for the potential consequences of indiscreet activity can prove hurtful, if not dangerous, depending on how messages affect others or who might prey on the information that is divulged.

Moreover, the implications for you as a young adult are quite real as you contemplate your next steps in life. Since most information on the Internet is discoverable, individuals and organizations that can determine your future opportunities now have a new window into your personality and character. Employers and, yes, college admission officers can access much of the information—words, messages and images—that are associated with you in cyberspace.

While colleges might not yet routinely employ “social media patrols” intent on discovering all the sordid details related to students applying for admission, know that they could do so if they feel there is a valid reason. And, in the selective admission process, you don’t want to give decision-makers a reason to say “no.” As you consider your presence in social media, then, take care to:

  • Exercise caution over impulse.
  • Weigh your words and choose your images wisely.
  • Treat your Internet image as though it is a billboard along the highway—it’s out there for the world to see.

A good reputation is hard earned, yet can be easily lost. Conduct yourself honorably and limit your exposure to risk by using good judgment with regard to how you project yourself in the world.

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