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Social Networking Sites and College Admissions - How to Stand Out from the Competition in a Good Way

You’ve filled out your applications, written your essays, spiffed up your resume, secured your letters of recommendation, submitted your FAFSA (for this year anyway) and are now dedicating every spare minute between AP classes and volunteering to finding scholarship opportunities. It’s a lot of work but soon-to-be college students are willing to put in the time if it means standing out from the applicant stack and gaining admission to the college of their choice. One thing many applicants fail to realize, however, is that in addition to GPA, standardized test scores and extracurricular activities, admissions committees are factoring what you post on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter into their decisions. Basically, your acceptance or rejection could come down to 140 characters...or less.

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In the digital age we’re living in, looking good on paper isn’t enough to wow admissions officers – your online identity needs to complement or exceed the contents of your application packet. Colleges have been quick to tout their rise in applications – in the 2011-2012 cycle alone, Dartmouth and UChicago set new records – and the increased competition is forcing admissions committees to evaluate each student with more discriminant eyes.

Kaplan Test Prep’s 2010 survey of college admissions officers revealed that four out of five college admissions offices use Facebook to recruit students...and they're also using the site to vet applicants. Allison Otis, a Harvard interviewer, says she regularly Googles students and looks through their Facebook and Twitter profiles for any red flags. “I think it’s always better to be safe than sorry,” she said in a Quora thread quoted by AllFacebook.com. “When you apply to college you spend such a long time crafting an image through your applications and essays that to be careless about your online data is just silly.”

We couldn't agree with Ms. Otis more...but how do you ensure your social networking activity will help your chances instead of harming them? Here are a few tips to make your Facebook and Twitter accounts sparkle instead of fade:

Think before you tweet or post. Mark Zuckerberg himself learned that what you post online lives on forever and probably wishes he thought a little more about some of the information he uploaded. The negative can come back to bite you, as can something you thought was funny at the time (if you saw “The Social Network,” you know it’s not advisable to drink and blog); other people are going to see what you publish so if you have even an inkling that what you’re about to post will make you look bad, don’t share it.

Adjust your privacy settings. Tweaking what others can see is easy with customizable privacy settings, which are available on both sites. On Twitter, you can choose to protect your tweets (meaning anyone who wants to access your 140-character musings will need your approval first) while Facebook allows its users to adjust their settings on a friend-by-friend basis. It’s a feature many students overlook in the short run but its long-term value is immeasurable.

Be more than a blip on the radar. Want your intended school to know you’re serious about wanting to attend? Show them not just by “liking” them on Facebook and following their Twitter feeds but by commenting on their posts with insight of your own. Tagging or @replying the school will ensure your response will be seen but if you prefer to just observe, incorporate the topics that appear with the highest frequency or elicit the most feedback into your application essays or interviews. This extra step won’t go unnoticed and could give you an advantage over another applicant.

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