Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Online data: the final chapter

So, I've had a few questions since my last post, and they invariably run along the lines of, "This comes up when I search for my name/facebook account/website. Do you think it's bad?"

Let me give you a mantra. If in doubt, take it out.

See? It even rhymes. But in all seriousness, folks, if you have to ask, it probably shouldn't be out there. The point isn't whether or not I think calling someone "fucking awesome" is an inappropriate thing for a seventeen year old to say. (Personally, I don't.) The real litmus test is - would you intentionally say it during your interview? Or write it in your essays? If the answer is no, just make it private, password protect it, or delete it. Easy peasy.

Moving right along. Interview season is mostly wrapping up across the country, applicants are receiving their admissions letters, and everybody else is gearing up for application season 2011. I'm planning on shifting gears to more general application questions. If you have some that you'd like me to address, leave it in the comments... or send it my way via email.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr: Cleaning up your act

My last post got a lot of attention, which I found surprising because I assumed that it was obvious. It turns out I was wrong, which was great because I'm glad that I put it out there.

To recap, I said that your Facebook profile, like any other social media that bears your full name, often comes to the attention of college admissions teams and you should be careful what you put on there.

But now that you know social media can count (sometimes against you) what do you do to clean up your act?

1. An image is worth a thousand words. Look at pictures first. When you google yourself, do any come up that are compromising? If so, untag yourself. Make them private. Or, if that doesn't work, ask your friends to take them down. Remember that Google will save a cache of some websites, so take care of this early.

2. Illegal activities. Some of your admissions team will be liberal and will smile fondly at youthful hijinks. Others won't. Don't risk it. Photos or references to you participating in anything illegal need to go immediately. That includes drinking, smoking, fighting, destruction of property, climbing over fences (i.e trespassing), setting off illegal fireworks, etc. What if it just looks illegal? Take it down anyway. Or label it clearly, i.e. "Training for the big boxing match" or "Rehearsing the bar fight scene for school play"

3. General silliness. You making goofy faces. Fan fiction. Having a food fight. IM conversations you had with your best friend when you were thirteen. All of these are examples of things that, while in and of themselves are fun and innocent, can be net negatives. Consider carefully before leaving anything like this in the public domain. What is the image you want to project? Is this helping you?

Now that you've found the offending data, what do you do about it? Either make it private, or delete your last name. If there's a website with photos, put a password on it. If we're talking about a facebook profile, play around with privacy settings. There are ways to leave up any info you'd like to share (i.e. you winning the debate tournament) while omitting the ones you'd like to keep private.

A few final words. There's been this flurry about admissions officers checking Facebook or other sites. As far as I know for Harvard has no official policy and I would be surprised if many colleges did. I have not been given any guidelines to follow. Here's the risk for you: if there's no policy, and I'm not checking consistently, I don't have a baseline. I don't have a list of things to watch for. I don't have a protocol. So, if you happen to accidentally leave up something that happens to grab my attention in the wrong way, there's a chance it will influence me more than it should, or even more than I consciously think it does.

Today, your public image is more than who you are in person. It also includes who you are online. That's true for you as a college candidate, it's true for me, and it's true for your grandmother. It's the new reality, and there's nothing revolutionary or scary about it - but it is important to learn to live with it and manage accordingly.