As you begin to apply to colleges, it is important to be sure that your online social media presence is squeaky clean. While you may think that you can fly under the radar as just one of thousands of applicants, keep in mind that application readers are often recent grads and will utilize social media to learn more about an interesting applicant.
Let’s start with the basics..
1) Google yourself! Hopefully, the only search results that pop up are your many accolades across sports, clubs or other school sanctioned activities. If you find something unexpected, do your best to contact the web administrator of whichever page you find (Tumblr? Pinterest? Foursquare? Facebook? Youtube?) and ask if it can be taken down.
2) Google your email address – this is an easy way for colleges to check on whether their initial Internet snoop links the right student to the right page.
3) Google your cell phone number. Think of this as an extension of your email address.
4) Google your “username” – if you’re like most social media users, you likely have a username that you use across multiple platforms. Check and see what this search yields. While colleges will not specifically know about your commonly used usernames, it’s still valuable to know what information exists online that is linked to your identity.
5) Don’t forget to Google image yourself too!
So, now that you’ve thoroughly scrounged the Internet for any identifying information and expunged anything remotely illicit, let’s move on to……
1) CHANGE your name: Last AND first name, no exceptions and no middle names as last names – this is a code easily cracked.
2) CHANGE your username if it contains any identifying information OR if it is one of your “common usernames”.
3) MAKE SURE your profile picture displays you at your most wholesome. Your profile picture is ALWAYS included in any search so it must be something 100% innocuous.
4) DON’T FORGET your cover photo. Same rules apply as your profile picture.
You may want to consider…..
Custom Friends Lists: Are you Facebook friends with anyone connected to your school? Teachers, coaches, administrators etc? If so, create a Custom list for them. This will allow you to block them specifically from seeing any of your content. Here’s how: On the left hand side of your Facebook homepage, expand the “Friends” tab. If you swipe your mouse over any of the words, you’ll be able to click “More”. From here, you’ll be able to click “Create list”.
Time to move on to PRIVACY SETTINGS!
Click the gear at the top right and select Privacy Settings
Who can see my stuff?: This refers to who is able to see status updates, shared photos, shared links, shared videos and basically anything that YOU put on Facebook or were tagged in.
You should not be sharing ANYTHING on Facebook with ANYONE that is not “age-appropriate” or alludes to an activity that you wouldn’t want your grandmother or admissions counselor to see. This includes, but is not limited to:
Smoking (anything, duh.)
Drinking – no beer cans, no wine bottles, no liquor bottles – NOTHING
Anything possibly construed as drug related
Plastic cups – even if that red solo cup only contained juice…..
Party – you may not be doing anything wrong, but party pictures can project an image that may conflict with how you would like an admissions officer to view you
Complaints about your teachers, school, or boss – just don’t do it, you never know who may see it or how it could negatively affect a recommendation or the support for your candidacy by your school.
Complaints about your friends or family – even if they’re meant in a non-serious way, you never know whether a mildly offensive inside joke will strike the wrong chord.
Excessive PDA pictures – if you’d feel awkward showing your grandmother, keep it off Facebook.
“Fun” pictures of you doing anything remotely illegal – did you hop a fence and pose in front of a “private property” sign? Keep it off Facebook!
Who can see your future posts?: Make sure that you have this setting on either “Only Me” or “Friends”. If you made a friend list for school contacts, click ‘Custom’ and enter the name of your friend list in the “Don’t share with” box.
Review all your posts and things you’re tagged in: This is a very good setting to keep on, just in case one of your less cautious friends decides to tag you in something that should stay private. If you click “Review Activity Log” you will be able to see who was able to view any of your Facebook activity, such as Likes, shares, wallposts, etc. You can change the audience for each post using the pencil edit graphic.
Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friend of friends or Public: If, in the past, you have any posts that are set to be viewable by “Friends of Friends” or the Public, you can use this option to limit all of them to Friends Only.
Who can look you up using the email address or phone number?: Put this setting on “Friends only”, or if you can’t bear to do that, at least “Friends of friends”
Do you want other search engines to link to your time?: NO, no you do not. Unclick the box that says, “Let other search engines link to your timeline”
TIMELINE AND TAGGING
Who can post on your timeline?: Make sure this setting is on “Friends” only.
Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline: Turn this setting ON – you may be able to catch something unsavory before it goes public.
Review what other people can see on your timeline: Here’s a great opportunity to use the “View as” setting to see what strangers (aka, the “public”) can see about you if they are able to break through your many clever security measures to stay hidden. Ideally, strangers should be able to garner ZERO information about you and NOT see any pictures apart from your happy, smiling, wholesome profile picture and cover photo, both of which will project you as the ideal candidate to your school of choice.
Who can see posts you’ve been tagged in on your timeline?: Select Custom and select the option to share only with Friends, and do not share with your custom list of school related Facebook friends.
Who can see what others post on your timeline?: Same setting as above, friends only and don’t share with your custom list of school related contacts.
Now let’s talk about YOUR PROFILE.
About section: Go to your profile and click the ‘About’ tab. This is where your work & education, family, location, ‘basic information’, and contact information are stored. Each section has an edit box. When you click it, you’ll have the option to hide each piece of information from your timeline, or make it accessible to only friends. For whatever you wish to keep on your timeline, make sure it’s accessible ONLY to friends.
If you scroll down, you’ll probably see several other sections like “Places”, “Likes” “Events”, “Groups”. All of these should be set to private using the pencil edit icon on the top right hand side.
Friends: Click the Friends tab. At the top left, you should see a pencil edit box, click it and select edit privacy. Now, adjust the setting so that only your friends can see your friends list and “following” lists.
Once you’ve gone through all of these settings, go back to the “View as” setting and do a double and triple check that ALL of your information is private and secure. Remember that Facebook tends to take 24 hours to put changes into effect, so be sure to do your final triple check 24 hours after making adjustments.