As high-school seniors attend graduation this year, the students that will be receiving their diploma will truly be some of the first to have never known a world before the internet. They have almost always access to a cell phone, and have blogged, blabbed, status updated and tweeted about their every thought and move. But could those tweets and posts cost them thousands in Financial Aid? According to the National Association of Scholarship Providers, it just might! If parents and students want ensure their scholarship and college admission application efforts are not in vain, cleaning up student social media profiles may prevent a loss of thousands in aid. More after the jump….
According to the Huffington Post, more than 80% of admissions counselors are checking the social media presence of applicants. In addition, the National Association of Scholarship Providers, a not-for-profit group representing some of the largest scholarship providers, have completed a study showing over a quarter of its members are making the rounds on applicant social media sites as well. An article by Monica Matthews, author of How To WIN College Scholarships – A Guide For Parents In Ten Easy Steps outlines further how ones social media presence is being mined by those people seek to impress. So given that admissions officers control a vast treasure trove of scholarship funds to recruit students, and that scholarships are becoming ever more necessary to pay for college, controlling ones social media presence has never been more critical.
James Madison Does Not Have Your Back
Often referred to as the father of our constitution, James Madison wrote the original 10 Amendments, the most critical of these was the first amendment protecting the freedom of speech. However, this freedom only implies protection from governmental oppression or sanction due to speech. If someone makes a statement that others find offensive and they lose customers, a job, or other opportunities, they are on their own.
Students on campuses everywhere like to use the argument, “whatever, I have the right to, like, say what I want”, and they are right. So go ahead; speak your mind. Let every idiotic idea you have ever had, fall from your mouth and into the public sphere. And then be ready to accept the consequences for that speech. You have a right to say stupid things; but others can and will punish you for it.
Prior to the social media era, a persons words typically went no further than their voice could carry, without a recording or video tape being involved. So a students random act of silliness might have been talked about across the school. However, it was likely to stop there. Now take that same stupidity and put it on display for the planet to read via Twitter, Google, or Facebook. Social media sites are the online equivalent of the megaphone of old, and it is LOUD! Cry all you like about how unfair and unjust it is to be judged while utilizing your freedom of speech; it won’t change the fact there are consequences.
Lets be honest; young students have spent the last decade voluntarily recording their life. The have blogged, tweeted, and posted every filthy unwashed part of it. Now, this un-redacted, unfiltered thought process is on display for all the world to see. Especially to scholarship providers, admissions officers, and future employers. This fact is now actually preventing some students from being admitted to some schools, and even preventing them from receiving a private scholarship they would otherwise qualify for. A great example of this is Yuri Wright, a HS school senior who had his admissions and scholarship offer withdrawn after profane tweets.
Lately, the rule of thumb for social media has been if you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see it, don’t post it. But given the age we live in, even grandmothers are making huge social media faux pas’s of their own. After all, who knows what kind of grandmother you have? Mine was a bit off her rocker; fun, but could be pretty explicit. Social media has become so granular and complex, that the grandma rule may no longer apply.
Because of this, I feel a new rule should be introduced. I call it the CNN/FoxNews Rule, and it goes like this; If any post, like, tweet, YouTube video, or a check-in on FourSquare could make you look like any of the following on CNN or Fox News, don’t post it:
- Hyper/extreme/fringe politically partisan (Occupy/Birthers)
- Using poor judgement
- Drinking underage
- Drinking above age
- Keeping bad company
- A drug user
How to Control Your Social Media In Three Steps
I could go on all day offering examples of Social Media failure affecting otherwise decent people, but you get the idea. All of those posts you think are harmless could come back to haunt you or your loved one with regard to financial aid, admissions, internships, and hiring after graduation. To survive, its important for those seeking scholarships or university admission get the idea that they can say whatever they want without consequence out of their head. So to help mitigate any potential damage, three big steps should be taken ASAP for anyone that has, or is about to apply for scholarships and for admissions.
Step 1: Make Your Sharing Granular And Group Your Contacts
You just got your iPhone 4s, with its 8MP camera, and the party was a blast. You were drunk, so you took a picture of yourself kissing a complete stranger while your makeup looked like a remake of the Joker al’a Heath Ledger. Since twitter and FaceBook are baked right into iOS, you posted it. After all, you really wanted all your friends who were not there to see how much fun you were having. And they did. Problem was you forgot you friended the bible-thumping teetotaler in school just to be nice to her. You got into Harvard, she didn’t. Now your picture was forwarded to the entire school; ouch. Now what do you do?
One thing about Facebook, and even twitter, is that the privacy settings allow you to make your profile sharing a “granular” experience. Simply put, you can keep out the morons while allowing your family and friends to comment freely on your page without others seeing the result. It may take some time, but an hour spent protecting yourself will save you thousands if your scholarship/job could be at risk. Why do this first? Because for those with long user histories, it could takes several hours to evaluate and delete each post that could be hazardous to your future. But by resetting your privacy levels now, you can keep prying eyes away while you clean up. Its like drawing the curtains so neighbors can’t see while you mop your floor.
- Turn Request to Follow on in Twitter – Unless you are managing a brand, or building one based on a talent you have, make your twitter profile private, so that others must request to follow you before they can see your tweets.
- Turn Off Facebook Public Settings – Lets be honest, if a person isn’t close enough to you to know your email address, do you really want them finding you on FaceBook?
- Cull Your List – Delete people you really don’t know, don’t want to know, or have no true contact with. Stop competeing for who has more FB friends; it’s something done only by those trying to communicate ideas to an audience, or someone with a false sense of what freindship is.
- Group Your List – Create sharing groups for family, “real” friends, co-workers, work contacts, and misc people, etc. This will allow you tailor individual permissions to each group such as who can post photos of you and tag you in photos.
- Set Posting Privacy Settings – Change who can, and cannot post without permission, such as family and coworkers. You don’t want your idiotic cousin posting dirty/inappropriate/NSFW jokes to your FB page.
- Set Viewing Settings – Make your settings reflect that you want only certain persons to see others posts, such as family being able to view co-workers posts, but not vice-versa. This allows those close to you to share without you getting burned.
Step 2:Clean Up Your Act
So you have battened down the hatches and restricted your profile to only the most essential people, with your inane mental nuggets getting through to only the intended parties. Now its time to clean up your posts. Why do you ask? Simply put, people are mean, vindictive, and often love to see others in misery. Its unfortunate, but true. That friend/acquaintance you met in high school and partied with one day may feel you have moved up to far and too fast. If they are in your sharing circle, you might end up with an embarrassing picture of you posted somewhere. Screen captures are easy to do and have burned plenty of people in the workplace such as a worker who blasted her boss after Facebook friending her, or Former US Marine Gary Stein who used Facebook to bash the Commander and Chief. Whether you agree with the result for either of them, the fact is their Facebook posts cost them. So while changing group settings helps, it’s even better to simply delete the extremely personal and embarrassing items. A few things to consider when thinking about your posts;
- Pictures – Do you really need everyone to see the photo of you in a bikini/swim suit? Is it really proper for scholarship judges or co-workers to see? Rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t put it on the front page of the local newspaper, you shouldn’t put it up where others can find it!
- Posts – Delete dirty jokes, off-hand comments, and ANYTHING that could be considered Not Safe For Work (NSFW); get rid of hyper-partisan, hyper critical comments that have nothing to do with what you are actively involved in. You may have an opinion on the death of Trayvon Martin, or have a personal issue with President Obama and his policies. But if you voice these opinions in an immature manner using graphic language, you end up looking like a fool, immature, racist, or all the above.
- Likes– We often forget, that as we play inside Facebook, we sometimes like items we would rather people not know about. Problem is, its right out in the open for all to see in the info
section. Delete likes of anything that isn’t somewhat “sanitized”. Liking a page that supports someone like David Duke, or the New Black Panther Party are both BAD IDEAS!
- Profile Info – Just as much as we forget about the likes, we forget the sarcastic garbage we put up on our profile to confound others. A great example is when someone is “Facebook Married” to several people in their high school class as a joke. Sexual preference and gender identity isn’t an issue here, it’s just plain a smart-alec move to claim being married to your three best female, and two of your male friends. It only shows judges that the applicant is immature and doesn’t take things seriously.
Step 3: Facebook at Work, and at Play:
So you have scrubbed your social media posts, and sanitized your profile, and restricted which friends can see what on your profile. And that’s if they are even still friends after you culled out the flakes. But what do you do if you still want to have a strong opinion or voice an opinion about a controversial topic. That’s when you develop an anonymous profile for social media networks. When anonymous, we are free to give a full and unfiltered opinion, hopefully away from the scrutiny of a scholarship judge, admissions officer, or potential employer. So here’s how to protect yourself in three easy steps:
- Open a “Garbage” Gmail Account – Have one email address that doesn’t have your name data on it, so you can use other sites without anyone tracing it back to you. Never use it to order something you are having sent to work, or give to your friends. Social media, doesn’t always mean being social with those you interact with everyday.
- Not Safe For Work/School/Admissions – Never log onto these sites via you garbage email address at a school, on a schools wireless connection, or at work. Advanced networks can trace the source of the log in, as well as your device ID and possible back to you. Keep your anonymous postings at home, on your own secured network to be safe.
It’s important to remember that just because you have the right to do a thing, doesn’t mean you should. Also, its ok to have an opinion, to have a political philosophy, and to have faith in a particular religion. But HOW you express these things matters. In today’s world where any Human Resources specialist’s first search for information begins on Google, be aware what you post WILL be judged according to THEIR subjective standard. You can’t control how others will read into your posts, so be cautious when you do post. Otherwise you could end up on the losing end of any scholarship effort, admissions attempt, or job you hunt you go on.