It’s that time of year again—when former students come into my classroom to vent about the college application process. I’ve already written more letters of recommendation than I can count this year. Now, it’s just a waiting game. My students are not good at waiting, especially when the outcome is out of their control. Not knowing whether they will be accepted to their schools of choice is excruciating.
Students look for even the smallest ways to increase their chances of acceptance during this time. For many, this means reviewing their Facebook, Twitter, and other social media profiles to delete updates, untag photos and lockdown profiles. In essence, to hide or get rid of anything not in keeping with the image they hope to portray to colleges. Students know college admission personnel are starting to tap social media as a way to get a better idea of their applicants’ lives. Some students have deleted their profiles altogether. Others have changed their names completely to avoid detection.
Party-hearty photos come down because that doesn’t say scholar. Stereotypical rants disappear, as do off-color jokes or unkind tweets.
It seems that students are finally catching on to the fact that what’s written on the Internet stays on the Internet, and that over-sharing is dangerous. Just because statuses were updated and pictures were posted years ago and are now buried deep in a news feed doesn’t mean that people can’t find them if they wanted to. When it comes to the college application process, colleges aren’t going to want to accept students who seem unconcerned with academics, and social media use is a good indicator of that.
While some might say this adds another, unnecessary layer of stress to the college application process, I think this is a great lesson about social media use. Students have a tendency to post whatever they want on public profiles because they don’t think it will matter in a few days after it becomes old news. Helping them understand that what they post on the Net is more permanent than that is a valuable lesson. When students exercise discretion about what they post on their social media profiles, they are better able to put their best foot forward. This lesson will last a lifetime, as well; when they enter the workforce. Employers will also be checking in on their profiles, looking to hire responsible adults.
As teachers, we can help. We can warn students of these new developments in the college admissions and job application processes. We can also teach our students valuable lessons on media literacy by incorporating in our classes current events stories about people who have gotten into trouble by misusing social media. Showing students these stories is not meant to scare them. On the contrary, it is meant to keep them one step ahead of the technological curve. Empowering students with this information before it is too late is a vital life lesson that we must incorporate into our classrooms, no matter the subject we teach.
Samsa is a freelance writer and teaches high school English in the south suburbs of Chicago.