By now you've probably been told at least once to be careful what information you put online. A survey conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling serves as a reminder of just how many people might be viewing your online presence, and just how high the stakes can be.
According to results published in Inside Higher Education, 26 percent of colleges admit to running students' names through search engines, while 21 percent use social networking sites, such as Facebook. While this is far from everyone, it's still a significant portion of schools, and if you apply to even four or five, there's a chance that at least one of those schools has a policy of checking up on at least some prospective students.
This doesn't mean you need to agonize over the psychological implications of every single status update, though. Schools that report viewing students' online profiles do so primarily in the context of reviewing candidates for prestigious scholarship awards or highly competitive degree programs, mostly to make sure nothing potentially embarrassing to the program surfaces when your name is announced. Setting debates over privacy and potential discrimination aside for a moment, this information should give you an idea of what you should and should not post, and why.
If you're applying for scholarships or your college search is skewing towards the prestigious and highly competitive, you may want to have a chat with your friends about any incriminating photos they've tagged you in. Similarly, you may want to avoid publishing any highly offensive or objectionable content on anything that appears high in a list of search results for your name. All of this is good practice for life, since admission officers are hardly the only people who may think to look into your online life before offering you something you want. Scholarship providers, internship programs, and future employers may all check out this information.
So before starting your scholarship search or writing your college application essays, do a search for your name and see what comes up. If it's something that may embarrass you or hurt your chances of winning scholarships or gaining admission to your dream school, consider deleting it. Maintaining a professional image online is going to benefit you in both the short and long term.