This week, Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to ten prospective students after discovering some truly terrible social media behavior.

This should serve as a reminder to all students that what you do online is never private and it never goes away.

In a “private” group chat that was spun off of the Harvard Class of 2021 Facebook group, the students traded memes and messages that are inappropriate by any reasonable standard, featuring themes of violent racism and sexism. After discovering the existence and contents of the chat, Harvard administrators revoked admission offers to the students involved.

Some believe that revoking admission is unfair, arguing that an individual has the right to say or post whatever he or she wants on social media. Others, however, point out that free speech does not mean that speech is free from consequences.

Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, it is important to know that colleges do not live in an off-line bubble. In a survey, 35% of college admissions officers reported checking social media as part of the application process, so if you are applying to college soon, make sure your online presence will help you, not hurt you.


Avoid Highly Controversial Posts

Colleges seek a graduating class that is diverse, open, and accepting. No college wants to become the center of a PR nightmare because a group of students committed some heinous act of intolerance, so posts reflecting racism, sexism, or any other sort of intolerance are not only wrong in and of themselves but also create an undesirable image of you as a prospective student.


If You Wouldn’t Want Your Future Boss to See It, Don’t Post It

Your social media presence will follow you for a very long time, and simply changing privacy settings or deleting pictures may or may not actually help conceal youthful online indiscretions – and your posts might hurt your future in more ways than one. After all, colleges aren’t the only ones who might judge you by your online presence: Some surveys indicate than nearly 2/3 of employers research job candidates through social media sites.


Include Links to Your (Best) Profiles

Social media can be a powerful tool for helping admission officers get a better view of you as a person. While many admission officers don’t look at student social media as a rule, if you provide them with a link in your application, they’re likely to check your profile out. So if you’ve been engaged in activism or entrepreneurship through your YouTube account, link to it. If you’ve developed a thoughtful and passionate blog, link to it. If your passions really shine on your Instagram account, link to it. You might even consider exploring social media platforms that you likely aren’t on yet, such as LinkedIn, which can provide you with a platform to really help your resume shine and to highlight your strongest skills.


Engage with Colleges

Colleges are often concerned with “yield,” meaning the percentage of accepted students who ultimately enroll. For this reason, expressed interest in a school is an increasingly important factor in college admissions. Between two equally qualified students, the one who has expressed a strong desire to attend is the one more likely to be admitted. In addition to things like taking campus tours or contacting alumni networks, one way of expressing interest is through engaging with colleges online. Follow the schools you want to attend, post on their pages, and whatever you do, DON’T talk smack about a school you might want to get into.

Regardless of your goals – in college and in life – be smart online.



Blog Author: Ashley Zahn
Ashley joined C2 Education in 2008. Since then, she has been instrumental in developing C2 Education’s unique line of curriculum materials, helped hundreds of students through C2 Education’s college admission essay help service, and shared her expertise in the fields of education and college admissions through the C2 Education blog.