It’s hard to say exactly whether college admissions officers will spend time combing through your online presence in determining whether you’re a good candidate for the school. Although “less than a third” of colleges actually visit applicants’ social media, a Kaplan Test Prep survey found that 68% of colleges said it was “fair game” to do so. Another Kaplan survey found that 70% of students agree—up from just 58% in 2014. In a world where tweets can get you fired, it stands to reason that you shouldn’t take the risk of assuming admissions officers won’t be checking you out. So assuming they’ll be looking, what should you do?
For starters, don’t post content you wouldn’t want a college admissions officer or future employer seeing. Period. In The Social Network, a character tells Mark Zuckerberg that “the Internet’s not written in pencil… it’s written in ink.” If you do a good job cultivating a social media presence without unsavory aspects that might give admissions officers or future employers pause, there’s no need to hide anything. In fact, social media can even be used to bolster your application: Another Kaplan Test Prep survey from last year included anecdotes of admissions officers finding awards or activities not listed on students’ applications that worked in their favor—though it also listed findings that led to students having their offers rescinded, among them an applicant who failed to disclose a past felony conviction.
You may not have anything this extreme, but suppose you’re just now coming to realize that you’d rather not have colleges see certain aspects of your online presence. What do you do? The first strategy is the most simple: Simply delete everything. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, everything on down to your Google+ account. (Though we can be fairly certain that nobody, including admissions officers, has been on Google+ for the better part of a decade.) This can be a successful course of action—no presence means nothing incriminating. But be careful: A good rule on the internet is that nothing deleted is actually ever gone. Think of how difficult Facebook makes it to delete your account, or how easily they reinstate your account if you decide otherwise.
Even supposedly ‘private’ groups are dangerous. Consider the case of accepted freshmen at Harvard who had their offers rescinded after a group chat used to trade memes was discovered by the school’s administration. We love memes as much as the next blog, but be incredibly careful about veering into harmful subject matter. Don’t expect colleges to ‘have a sense of humor’ when it comes to this stuff. With thousands of qualified applicants, they don’t have the luxury of giving someone the benefit of the doubt.
Ultimately, treat social media as you would any other public aspect of yourself made available for colleges and employers to judge. As long as you put in the time to include positive aspects of your life and steer clear of potentially controversial or harmful content, you don’t have to worry.