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Despite a Decline in College Recruiters Viewing Social Media Profiles, You Are Still Missing Out On Chances By Hiding Yourself Your college admittance probably won't depend on your social media, but it just might.

By Matt Sweetwood

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

PhotoAlto | Frederic Cirou | Getty Images

A new Kaplan study suggests that college admissions officers have less interest in checking applicants' social media activity when reviewing applications. While 40 percent of the respondents in a similar 2015 study said they had checked an applicant's social media profile, only 25 percent say the same in the November 2018 study.

According to the report, possible reasons for this sharp decline are:

  1. The applicant can't be found.
  2. The admissions officer values their privacy.

Firstly, 52 percent of the admissions officers that have checked applicants' social media activities say that students are clever about hiding their social media presence. It becomes no use to look when you know you won't find them -- or worse, you'll find an inauthentic version of them. A separate report by Piper Jaffray found that more teens are using Instagram and Snapchat than Facebook. The former two make it easy to share posts with only a select group of people, while the latter is a social community where you have less control over who sees your posts.

Secondly, when asked if it was "fair game" to check an applicant's social media activity while considering them for admission, only 57 percent of the respondents agreed this year, but 68 percent held the same view last year. This shift in attitude could also explain why fewer college recruiters are checking social media.

But don't get up just yet. I think this is the best time to remind you of what you're missing out on by not letting yourself be seen online.

Here is the thing: Even while fewer admissions officers check social media, some still do, and you've seen the evidence -- some students get kicked out of school or get denied a chance altogether. Oppositely, you can use social media today to build a strong brand that doesn't just protect your reputation but also gives you an edge over others in the same category.

But first, what you're missing:

You miss out on the chance to make an impression

Over the recent past, we've seen social media play a significant role in the admission (read: disqualification) of college students. From Harvard University revoking acceptances of 10 admitted applicants to the high school senior who was denied a chance at Bowdoin College after her disparaging tweets were discovered. And how about the freshman who got kicked out of University of Rochester just as she was getting settled? She had ruined her fraudulent plan with a single social media post. Admissions officers are quick to point out that good grades can't save such a situation.

Social media is a great place to make an impression. Most students don't seem to realize that what you project online is perceived as the real you. And indeed it is. You're not a different person online. When college recruiters are checking out your social media activity, they are looking to see what you are beyond the polished application.

Instead of ruining your first "virtual" impression, you can use social media to build a good one. For instance, schools monitor their social media mentions, in case you didn't know. This is how they're able to catch students posting disparaging comments about others, like in the case of Bowdoin College above. They also have tools that allow them to see who views their page or follows their links on emails. In short, they monitor and are interested to see those who engage with them online.

Rather than having them catch you being malicious, why not let them catch you checking out their account or talking about how joining the school would help advance your goals? This is part of "demonstrated interest," which college recruiters are keen on.

Your authentic self is more interesting than you think

You can't fake your way into a successful brand. You have to be authentic. Lately I've realized however, that when you insist on something so much people start to think it's hard to do. But authenticity is neither hard nor a choice when you're building a successful brand.

Executive director of research at Kaplan Test Prep, Yariv Alpher told me earlier that the reason why recruiters consider it fair to include social media activity in the admissions decision is that they get to see the applicant with all the adornment of the application process. On the other hand, students view social media as something they can control; that they can use it to their advantage. In other words, the smartest of those who are open to sharing their social media profiles with college recruiters know they can use social media as an opportunity to show accomplishments and talent which would increase their chances.

Social media can be the most fun way to show your authentic self. When used well, it's a way to overcome self-doubt, showcase yourself and build a brand around what you choose to share about yourself.

By showing off your authentic self, you can differentiate yourself from others and reveal the unique skills and abilities you have as well as passions you're pursuing. No college wants a student who's just there to study.

Social media isn't the key to getting into the school of your choice. However, with a small set of simple practices, you can use it as a branding tool that will help you way beyond college. Think of it as a photo album that you update at every stage of your life and need at the next one. It will be easier to follow through if you don't see it as a task with an immediate end result because your personal brand is forever.

Matt Sweetwood

Business Consultant • CEO Coach • Speaker • Photography Expert

Matt Sweetwood is a business consultant specializing in technology, retail and distribution. He is a speaker, coach and author of Leader of the Pack: How a single dad of five led his kids, his business and himself from disaster to success.

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