You wouldn’t show up to a college tour in a toga or send in an application riddled with errors, would you? Yet if you let your guard down too much online, you can do real damage to your digital footprint and your credibility. While many college admissions offices are mum about whether they check out applicants online, there’s no way to know for sure. So there’s nothing to lose by spending some time to polish your digital footprint.
Even if you’re confident large universities won’t be searching for your digital footprint, a coach, scholarship committee or other personnel looking at a smaller pool of potential applicants might have the time. And they might decide that a candidate’s online persona presents a truer picture of the “real them.”
Here’s how to clean up your digital footprint so you shine online:
- Watch the name. Whether it’s your email address (hotchick15@ISP.com) or your Twitter handle (@BiggestCowboysFan), your name is your key identifier so you have to ensure it is professional. If you need to, open a new Gmail account that you use for college activities, and rebrand your Twitter page.
- Check your settings. Make them as private as possible. A determined sleuth may still find a way in, but it proves that you know basic norms for social media.
- Unlike that now. Even if you’re over Facebook, take a look at “pages” you might have joined way back when. You’ll likely find dozens of groups you randomly joined or liked, such as “Isn’t this illegal!?’ ‘Not if we don’t get caught!” Most are benign but they also don’t give the best impression. A few clicks can remove them.
- A picture is worth a thousand words. So make sure you’re okay with what those words might be! Maybe you “had to be there,” but remember that the college admissions office wasn’t. While you’re at it, check what photos you’re friends tagged you in. Any sort of illegal or objectionable behavior deserves a delete!
- Google (and Bing) yourself. You might be surprised what shows up on the first few pages. Maybe you’ve made a comment on a blog that you’d rather not have show up, or you have a hobby of rudely critiquing local restaurants. While you can’t delete the results, you can proactively burnish your profile so more appealing information comes up. (More on that below.)
Keep in mind, social media can also help you. Here are four ways to give you a credible digital footprint:
- Join LinkedIn. The career network is the place to be to show you’re serious. Make a point to connect with teachers, employers, your parents’ friends and colleagues and others who know you. If appropriate, ask them to post a recommendation on your page. You could even direct admissions teams to your LinkedIn profile by including the address in your application.
- Participate in online groups related to the colleges that interest you. Check out the Tumblr, Listerv, Facebook page and any other platforms belonging to your targeted colleges. By making positive comments, you can raise your name recognition and improve your digital footprint.
- Post positive news. You want to refrain from being braggy, but you can post positive news or thoughts on your social media sites just in case someone takes a peek. Link to articles you’ve written for your school paper or a photo of your soccer team.
- Improve your Google results. If you’re not thrilled with the current search engine returns, there are ways to fix it. Search engines grab high-quality links and sites, so that’s where you want to be. Your LinkedIn page, for example, is bound to be one of the top returns. Pinterest usually shows up high too, so if you are a Pinner, check your pins and make sure they reflect well. School activity is likely to show high up as well–from writing an article for the school paper to participating in an activity or club that’s on the website. Try commenting on news stories from your local paper or even the New York Times. Just make sure your comments are positive.
You only have once change to make a good first impression, even online first impressions. Take the time to burnish your digital footprint and ensure the great first impression your application made is backed up online.