Done With Applications? Now Set Your Facebook to Private

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You know that picture on your Facebook profile of you at that one party where you’re holding that red Dixie cup in one hand and what looks like a cigarette in the other?

I’m sure there was water in that cup and the cigarette was just a prop for a play you were rehearsing at the time, but ask yourself: why is that picture up there?

Is it because you thought:

a. My hair looks suuuuper cute in that picture.

b. Hey, that’s just me being me, bro.

c. Whatever, I don’t care what anyone thinks.

d. #YOLO

If it’s any of the above, I beg you to consider another, more important question: what would a college admissions rep think?



In an article published last month in the NY Times called “They Loved Your G.P.A. Then They Saw Your Tweets,” the author mentions a student who was caught tweeting disparaging comments about her fellow students and swearing during a visit from a Bowdoin College rep, and now she’s a cautionary tale. And according to a new study from Kaplan, apparently 31 percent of college reps have checked or do check students’ Facebook profiles to learn more about them. (Did your stomach just drop? Don’t stop reading yet.)

Turns out college reps aren’t the only ones FB-stalking you.

“We check the Facebook page of not only potential hires, but volunteers as well,” says Yvonne Sawyer, COO at the non-profit Hope for Miami (and, full disclosure, my mother in-law).  

I asked Mrs. Sawyer what sorts of photos are red flags for her and she emailed to say, “As an employer we’re not excited about discovering photos of them displaying drunk behavior or revealing too much skin. Between interviewing and training a new employee, it costs us a lot of money to hire someone. So a quick FB check can help make or break a hiring decision, for sure.”

Listen to the woman; she has a Ph.D in Common Sense.

If you’re starting to freak out a little bit, keep calm and do this:

  1. Take down the embarrassing photos. And untag yourself in the ones your friends have posted of you, or ask them to take them down.

  2. Change your FB settings to “private” so no one you don’t know can see your photos.

But here’s an even better idea: look at this as an opportunity.

If 30 percent of college reps really are checking out your Facebook profile, why not post some stuff that might actually help your chances?

If you’re applying Early Decision to Stanford, for example, why not change your cover photo to a giant I LOVE STANFORD photo? Okay, that could be embarrassing if you don’t get in or if you end up applying to a bunch of schools through regular decision and forget to change the photo.

You can even get your pets involved.

You can even get your pets involved.

Here’s a better idea: why not post some photos of yourself being amazing? I’m not talking about photos of you discovering the cure for cancer or accepting the Nobel Peace Prize (although if you have a photo of you doing either, then that’s exactly what I’m talking about).

I’m talking about photos that reveal those intangible qualities that are tough to put into words. If you have an Instagram with a very specific aesthetic, your reader might see it and think, “There’s a student who has a mature aesthetic sensibility, is sensitive to life’s small details, and may or may not have met Ron Artest.” And at least two of those things might help get someone into college. (I love you, Ron; I’m not hatin’.)   

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