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Hardy Har Har Harvard? How Social Media Jokes Can Cost You Big

The major news to come out this week is not about a politician or celebrity. Instead, it is about a college--Harvard, to be exact. While the college admissions community is familiar with students (and parents) committing all sorts of questionable acts to get into their dream schools, it doesn’t often hear about actions that lead to the rescinding of acceptances.

So what happened exactly?

As reported in the Harvard Crimson, ten students who were accepted as part of the Class of 2021 had their offers rescinded after they created a private Facebook group in which they made obscene and highly offensive memes, joking about things such as the Holocaust and sexual assault. The purpose of the group, which was an offshoot of a broader Facebook group for incoming freshmen, was to share “R-rated” material. Whenever administrators at Harvard learned about the group, they reviewed the students who participated in exchanging the messages and decided that at least ten students would not be going to Harvard after all.

This story serves as a reminder to anyone applying -- and to those who have even been accepted -- that online behavior is, by and large, not private behavior. Your online self is a public self, so you must conduct and present yourself as you would in public. When you are applying to colleges, that means putting out the best you into the world via social media. And this is not a one-time thing. It is a constant way to live a digital life, even AFTER you're accepted.

Hopefully you aren’t one to make light of serious issues, but if you do joke or share messages in a way that colleges could perceive as troubling, then it’s best left unsaid or out of the confines of online comments and groups. And sure, colleges aren’t going to track the digital breadcrumbs you leave throughout the Internet to find that one inappropriate thing you wrote on a message board three years ago, but they will definitely review whatever they can find through a simple search. Ever Google your own name? Whatever you can see about yourself is what colleges can see too.

Let’ face it: the “real life” you and the “online” you are the same. Sure, you may look like you’re always eating at restaurants or going on awesome vacations based on what you post online, but people nowadays take the online self to be a representation of your core identity. And that’s precisely why Harvard didn’t want those ten students. They acted with poor judgment and showed that they would not be representing Harvard in the best light.

While educating people on social media presence doesn’t normally fit into the realm of test-prep education, we talk about a lot of things at B2A. And as the college admissions season begins for the Class of 2022, we would like to point out that we do offer college admissions services, and we could even help you review your social media presence--among other things. Don’t let a bad joke be the thing that holds you back from getting into -- and staying in -- your dream school.

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