Tidy Up Your Digital Dirt: Your Online Image Matters! For High School and College Students
Are you on social media? Chances are the answer is yes. How often do you post pictures, tag your friends in memes, or comment on viral Facebook posts? Many students (if not all, nowadays) post a good portion of their lives online. However, what many don’t take into account is that their social media is often viewed by college admissions offices and potential employers. Do a quick experiment: Google yourself. Are you happy with what you see? Does the content that comes up reflect you as a person? Now, that’s what we call your “digital footprint” – it’s what you leave behind every time you post online. In fact, your digital footprint tells the world where you’ve been, who you’ve been with, and where you’re going! So it’s important to understand: everything you say and do online portrays a particular image. Even though it might seem like light-hearted fun…the inappropriate pictures and comments you post pop up when an employer searches your name. Yikes!
You see, your digital footprint is, quite literally, your reputation. It’s how the world sees you. Now, you need to ask yourself – what kind of reputation do you want to have? What image are you portraying to the world by the things you say and do?
Here’s why your digital footprint is important…because college admissions offices and employers do read your online profiles and they do make decisions based on the information they find out. Take a look at this: according to the New York Times, “Out of 381 college admissions officers who answered a Kaplan telephone questionnaire, 30% said they had visited an applicant’s Facebook page or other personal social media to learn more about them.” In addition to colleges and employers, your professors and parents also see and hear what you’re up to online. Understand that everything is potentially public: your posts on Twitter, Instagram, even Snapchat! So, whether you like it or not, the internet is forever. You might think deleting something off your phone makes it disappear…but it doesn’t!
With this in mind, remember the golden rule: Always treat others how you want to be treated. And if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all!
Now, we’ve talked a lot about your “digital footprint” – but what exactly is it? A digital footprint consists of all the information about you online (posted both intentionally and unintentionally). That includes texts, Facebook posts and comments, photos, videos, blogs, tweets, etc.
Now then, how exactly can you get started digging up your digital dirt so you can improve your image online?
Simply follow these 9 steps:
1. Google Yourself: See what people find when they Google you. Colleges and employers WILL Google you, so it is good to know in advance what they might see. You can contact Google if you want something removed.
2. Spruce Up YOUR Digital Image: Take a close look at the things you have typed and photos YOU have posted online. Anywhere and Everywhere. Ask yourself if those posts reflect you as a person. Are they things you would not mind a future college or employer seeing? Are any of your posts or your friends’ posts vulgar or profane? Are they too controversial about politics, religion or social issues? Delete anything you THINK might be offensive by a college or job you are applying to.
3. Clean Up Your Contacts: Make sure you know who is posting photos of you. Try to follow and interact with quality people because you will be associated with the individuals and pages you are connected to and following.
4. Always Think Before You Post: Be conscientious of who might be reading your content. Could it be misinterpreted as rude or offensive? If so, don’t post it! Remember, what you post as a comment or a response will be on the internet, f o r e v e r!
5. Check your personal and professional e-mail name: Always use appropriate and professional e-mail addresses and usernames.
6. Tighten UP your Privacy Settings: Only give your very close friends and family the ability to tag you in photos and posts. Check your FB, IG, SC and other settings. Make sure you know the people that are posting photos of you.
7. Review OLD Posts: Your old posts aren’t going to get any more likes (sorry!), but they might get flagged by a potential university or employer as problematic. So, when in doubt, delete it!
8. Don’t post when you are angry or “under the influence”: Many people regret posting something while they are angry, tired or whatever. Think very carefully what you post. Reread it twice before touching “enter” or “return”.
9. Remember This Rule: If you don’t want your parents, teachers or future employers to see your posts, then don’t post it!
Take these tips and check off when you have completed it. We are also giving you a link to a free downloadable, pdf-fillable checklist that you can save or print.
I would love to hear your comments and experiences with social media and applying to colleges and careers.
-Lynn Miner-Rosen, M.Ed., ACC, CDCS