Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What if they see that picture on Facebook?

Written By Guest Author Dawn Casey Rowe

When researching or applying to colleges, social media can be extremely helpful. Applicants can investigate majors, student life, follow athletic teams, and network with students. Colleges can engage with applicants and find out whether they might be a good fit for the university.

But social media can have a dark side, too, if improperly used.  Applicants were reporting that some universities were requesting to see into their social media beyond casual interactions, at times even requesting passwords to social media accounts. Legislators have stepped in and ruled on this practice. In states like California, New York, Michigan, Delaware, and Illinois, among others, it is now illegal for colleges to ask for social media passwords or to ask to potential applicants for access to accounts for recruiting purposes.

Many colleges use social media positively to engage with prospective students, and guidance councilors recommend that students “like” or follow colleges, stating that trends show it’s more difficult for students who “apply blind,” that is, without engaging and evidencing their interest in a university on social media. From a college’s perspective, if a student won’t follow them on social media, the applicant doesn’t seem to be a serious contender when compared to students who live and breathe the college online.  It can be perceived as a lack of commitment.

Even though several states have ruled applicants don’t have to hand over Facebook passwords to a recruiter, putting fines in place for violations, it is still a great idea to clean up social media when applying to colleges, fellowships, and jobs.

I recently signed up for Vizify, which is a great site that pulled together a bunch of information about me from the internet and displayed it quite nicely. After I set up my account, it showed all my residences, the schools I’ve attended, and all my prior jobs. The only thing it didn’t have was my newest address, and that’s only because I had moved the week before—I managed briefly to outwit the Internet.

I showed this to my seniors.

“You’ll notice some of my most common tweets.”  We studied the chart.  Things like “student,” “#satchat,” “#edchat,” “#edchatri,” “school,” “class,” “blog,” and “kids” were on my list of frequently tweeted words.

“Wow,” said one of my Twitter-loving seniors.  “My words would be “#$%,” “*&&*^,” and “@%$%!” She signed up, and sure enough, they were.

Is that the image you want to project of yourself as an applicant to a college, whether it’s legal for a university to spy or not?  Although similar laws apply to potential employers, it’s all too easy to access this information. Most of this type of personal information is readily available online. It’s best to put it in the best possible light just in case someone of future importance to your school and career goals happens across it.  A casual glance can affect an opinion. The old adage is true, “You never get a second chance at a first impression.” 

This is such a serious issue that there is a newly emerging field—“personal branding” to help with just these situations. People actually pay professionals to help them establish and maintain a positive image.

Using social media correctly can be the thing that helps you get into college or to find out about schools you might like—it can make connections for you and send you in the right direction for college and careers.   Using it incorrectly makes you a liability.  As you prepare for college and later for job interviews, take some time to think about how using social media can benefit you, and let it do just that. It can make a world of difference!

About the Author:

I teach Social Studies at the William M. Davies Career & Technical High School in Rhode Island. My passions include research, writing, history, sustainability, fitness and social justice. I'd love to see tech innovations to level the playing field in education. I'm a big fan of our local farmers, sustainable agriculture, and all things natural and tasty. I blog and run in my spare time.

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