How to Clean Up Social Media Before Applying to College

Why Conducting a Social Media Audit Is Important for Students

laptop notebook and cell phone pulled to social media


Like it or not, people are watching high school juniors and seniors online, especially if they are in the process of applying to colleges, looking for internships, being recruited for an athletic team, or even searching for summer jobs.

In fact, you can bet that countless decision-makers are Googling, judging, and analyzing the body of content these students have posted online and forming opinions about what type of people they are.

Why Cleaning Up Social Media Is Important

Research from Kaplan Test Prep indicates that in 2013, 29% of admissions officers say they have Googled an applicant or visited their social networking profiles. Meanwhile, students don't seem to be worried that they are being reviewed and evaluated based on their social media content.

In fact, about 50% of high school respondents say they are "not at all concerned" about online searches hurting their chances of admissions. But maybe they should be. In 2017, Harvard rescinded the applications of 10 students because they had made posts that were offensive to various racial and ethnic groups.

The likelihood of admissions decisions being rescinded is significant.

Remember, college applications are often completed online. So, it's easy for the reader to open a new tab while reviewing a student's essay and do a background check at the same time. Although no one really knows how often that happens, your best bet is just to assume it is all part of the evaluation process.

But, before you go into panic mode and shut down all your kid's social media accounts, be aware that the lack of a social profile can be just as damaging to your student. In fact, in a survey conducted in 2018 by Career Builder, 47% of employers said they are less likely to interview people they are unable to find information about online.

Your best course of action is to help your teen complete a social media audit, which is just a fancy way of saying you're going to do a little spring cleaning of the social media accounts. To help you get started, we have compiled a list of tips on how to make your teen's social media accounts sparkling clean.

Cleaning Up and Curating Social Media

If you are like most parents, watching high school seniors go through the college application process is nerve-wracking. You want to be sure they are putting their best foot forward.

But, have you ever considered the importance of their digital footprints as well? The following are some ways in which parents can help their teens make sure their social media resume is not the reason they end up in the reject pile.

Google Your Teen

Of course, this step sounds simple enough. But keep in mind this is where a potential employer or admissions officer will start. As a result, you want to see what they might see.

If you uncover any negative posts, comments, or photos, remove those if you can. If a questionable photo was posted by someone else, ask them to take it down or at least untag your teen. Be persistent, if they do not do it right away.

Then, make sure your teen changes their privacy settings to prohibit people from tagging them in photos and posts without their permission.

Evaluate Every Piece of Content

Sit down with your teen and look through each social media account. Take time to look at every photo and every post. This process may take time, especially if your teen has been on social media for a while.

As you go through the content, consider deleting any posts where your teen complains about something or someone. It doesn't matter if it is a complaint about an airline or the president, a teacher or a coach, posts that contain complaints are viewed negatively.

The goal is to make sure your teen is displaying a positive image. You also should consider deleting any posts that are provocative, discriminatory, cynical, sarcastic, or mean.

Think Like the Decision Maker

Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions officer. What would you think of your teen's social media profiles? What message is being conveyed? What does it say about your teen?

For instance, do hundreds of selfies make your teen look narcissistic? Do their comments on other people's posts make them sound insensitive or rude? Could their jokes among friends be misconstrued as bullying? Are the photos too provocative or lacking in professionalism?

The goal is that your teen comes across as a responsible young person that would be an interesting and contributing member of the college's campus. If their posts contradict that goal, it is best to remove them.

Streamline the Selfies

Too many selfies make your teen look self-absorbed. And, if the selfies primarily contain fish faces, duck lips, and tongues hanging out, they also look immature and unprofessional.

While it is true that your teen is not yet an adult, attending college is one of the first steps toward adulthood and admissions officers are looking for teens that appear ready for all that college entails. Looking like a partier does not convey responsibility, work ethic, or maturity —all things teens hope to convince a college admissions officer of in their application.

Update Security Features

Anytime someone wants to put their best digital foot forward, they need to tighten the security features on their social media accounts. This means making accounts private, limiting posts to only friends, limiting or controlling comments on the posts, making photos unshareable, and not allowing others to tag them without their permission.

Every account should have the strongest security features provided. This way, if you miss a post or forget to remove something, the privacy settings will keep admissions officers from getting to the information.

Evaluate the Message

Parents should sit down with their teens and determine what message they want to convey to college admissions officers. In other words, what type of person are they describing in their college applications? Does that person match the person they see in their social media accounts?

For example, if your teen talks about how passionate they are about helping the homeless, do their social media accounts contain photos of them volunteering at food pantries or shelters?

Do they have photos of herself collecting large donations of food and supplies for the local shelter? Are they retweeting or reposting interesting articles about homelessness in the United States? If your teen wants college admissions officers to buy their story in her college essay, they need to support it in their social media accounts as well.

Review Old Blog Posts

While most admissions officers and employers consider blogging a plus, you want to be sure your teen is conveying a positive message. Anything that is controversial, inflammatory, or unprofessional should be deleted.

Additionally, edit the posts for typos and grammatical errors. When blog posts contain a lot of errors and a clunky writing style, this sets off some warning bells for college admissions officers, especially if the writing style in the personal essay is pristine.

They may question whether the student actually wrote the essay they are reading. You want to be sure blog posts are just as polished as the college essays.

Create Content

Talk to teens about their goals for college and beyond. What are they passionate about? What makes them unique or interesting?

These are the types of things they should be posting about in their social media accounts. And, if that information is not already there, then they need to get busy creating some of it.

Encourage them to follow organizations that are reflective of their passions. They should then, occasionally, retweet or repost content from these organizations.

These posts show that teens care about more than the awesome burger they had with their friends last week or the crazy outfits they wore to the football game on Friday night. While those types of posts are fine, they need to intermingle these school posts with posts that indicate that your teen is thinking beyond high school. Even if they do not know what they want to major in, they have to have something that they are passionate about.

Follow the Admissions Offices

Once teens have narrowed down their college choices, they should be following the admissions offices of the schools they are most interested in. While they may not want to repost or retweet their posts, they certainly can like or favorite them.

By doing so, they are not only getting their name in front of someone in the admissions office, but they also are learning more about the top colleges on their list every time they read a post. There is a lot to be learned from these posts if your teen learns to take time to consider them.

A Word From Verywell

Overall, college admissions offices are very tightlipped about how much weight they give to an applicant's online presence, it still is an important consideration for high school students.

They should approach their social media accounts as extensions of the college application process, taking time to create and curate profiles that tell others exactly who they are. What's more, motivated high school students can even use their social media presence to build a story about themselves.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kaplan Inc. Kaplan Test Prep Survey: More College Admissions Officers Checking Applicants' Digital Trails, but Most Students Unconcerned.

  2. CareerBuilder. More Than Half of Employers Have Found Content on Social Media That Caused Them NOT to Hire a Candidate, According to Recent CareerBuilder Survey.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.