Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Lessons from Harvard: College-bound students must be careful with social media even after acceptance

Posted June 7

At least 10 students, who were part of Harvard University's incoming freshmen class, won't be headed to the prestigious Ivy League university this fall.

As originally reported in the Harvard Crimson, the students' admission offers were revoked because of comments they made online in a private Facebook group back in December. There, they shared images and messages that were sexually explicit or made fun of racial minorities. In one example, they called the hypothetical hanging of a Mexican child "piñata time," The Crimson reported.

A Harvard spokeswoman said she couldn't comment on individual applicants, but said that Harvard tells accepted students that their admission offers can be withdrawn at any time if their behavior "brings into question their honesty, maturity or moral character," among a variety of other reasons, according to an Associated Press article.

Christine Hall, a long-time educator and owner of CMH College Consulting in Cary, says Harvard's decision should come as no surprise to college-bound students, including those whose acceptance letters were rescinded. Hall helps high school students on their path to college.

Hall said 25 percent to 30 percent of college admission officers look at a student's social media accounts to learn more about them. After all, grades and extracurricular activities aren't the only things admission officers are looking at as they consider who will be accepted into their next class. In fact, one study found that 80 percent of college admission officers rank "quality of character" as important.

"This is not a secret," Hall said. "They’re looking at social media. Kids have known this ... that admission people have been looking at your social media."

These days, Hall said that many of the high school students who she works with are no longer on Facebook. One study finds that teens are more likely to be on SnapChat or Instagram.

But, Hall said, regardless of what social media platform they are spending their time on, students need to make sure they'd want their grandma to see every single thing they post.

"Once it’s out there, you can’t take it back," Hall said. "And kids are like, 'oh it’s private.' There’s no such thing as privacy settings."

Here's what Hall tells the high school student she works with:

Don’t post anything that you don’t want everybody to read. "Once it’s documented, it happened," she said., a nonprofit, has some common sense tips for teens.

Make sure your email address is professional: "PurtyKittyKat" might have been an innocent childhood nickname, but don't make it part of the email address that you use to communicate with colleges or, for that matter, your supervisor at your summer job or the parents of the kids you babysit. Don't use nicknames or silly word combinations that appear unprofessional.

Don't get a bad case of senioritis: You might have an admission letter in hand, but, as the Harvard case suggests, that doesn't mean you can't let it all out. Not only are colleges expecting good behavior online, they're also looking for good behavior in real life, Hall said. That includes finishing the school year with good grades and no discipline problems, for instance.

"Don’t think colleges can’t come back and reprimand you," Hall said. "It's no different than disciplinary behavior in school. ... Once you’re accepted, that school has the right to say, 'we’re not taking you.' You still have to cross your T's and dot your I's. You have to be on your best behavior."

And that good behavior that got a student into college will need to continue throughout their college career and, of course, beyond.

"Grades, activities, community service. You're still going," Hall said. "They think they're done, but I tell them, 'don't get senioritis,' Hall said. "Colleges, in my opinion, have every right to do this."


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