Social Media, Harvard, and You
Recent college admissions news has illustrated once again the perils of our increasingly technology-based, text-driven world. If it wasn’t already enough for you to prove yourself to admissions officers through outstanding grades and test scores, now you have to ensure that you have maintained an exemplary public self throughout your teenage years.
It is no secret that college admissions officers use social media as a way to determine the character of their applicants. The gloss of college admissions essays and the glowing language of recommendation letters are important, but sometimes finding the “truth” of a person lies in how that person has presented themselves to the public via social media.
Students hopefully now are well aware that their Internet selves are inextricably linked to whatever other selves they put forth to the admissions committees. In other words, there is no “real life” vs. “online” self in the eyes of admissions officers. And rightfully so. After all, why would what you do or say on the Internet or through text be somehow different than what you say or do in person?
In the recent Harvard case, the student was actually accepted to Harvard, getting past the major hurdle that many others fail to clear. Usually the thinking goes that once you’re accepted, then you can relax. Not so. After acceptance, the student’s text messages, filled with derogatory comments and racial slurs, came to light, forcing Harvard officials to make a decision. Having gathered enough evidence, a vote was held, and ultimately the student’s acceptance was rescinded.
The controversy arises from several factors, but the one prominent defense of the student is that he was two years younger (16) when he wrote the texts. Growth and development are important factors to college admissions officers, but it is worth pointing out that a student's entire high school career (and sometimes even earlier) play into how that student is measured and deemed fit or unfit for the college.
In other words, 16 is an age that is good enough to take the SAT/ACT, whose scores are a major factor in admissions, and 16 is an age that is good enough for taking AP/IB classes, whose weighted grade points determine GPA and class rank, other important factors in admissions. So, why would 16 not be “fair game” for understanding a person’s character as it relates to their fitness for college?
Understandably, it would.
Even with the nuances of how and why, this incident reiterates the reality that students face: social media, private messaging, and texting -- basically, all forms of recorded communication -- can affect a student’s chances of acceptance and maintaining that acceptance.
The easiest solution to this problem is to act like an upstanding student and citizen from the start, but obviously we all make mistakes and have lapses of judgment. Harvard and other top-tier colleges aren’t looking for reasons to drop your application or rescind your acceptance, but they will take note. And sometimes whatever you said or did, while maybe not strictly academic, is enough to question your moral character and maturity--both important qualities for college admissions.
Just remember, the makeup of a college’s student body is twofold: academic and characteristic. The quality of the students reflects the quality of the college. There is nothing malicious about this position: Harvard, for example, wants to maintain its elevated standing among colleges, so it wants students that will contribute to such a position.
What are ways that you can prevent yourself from getting denied acceptance or your acceptance rescinded from a social media flub or an ill-advised text exchange?
(1) Always try to be your best self, even if you think nobody is watching.
(2) Review your social media in the “eyes” of an admissions officer; delete any questionable content (or set your account to private).
(3) When texting or private messaging, consider what may happen if someone took screenshots of your exchange and shared those publicly. Maybe something is best said in person (or NOT AT ALL).
(4) If you are worried that something you have said may surface, you can “get ahead of it” by addressing the matter in an admissions essay or an optional essay. Depending on the circumstance, you could reveal your growth as it relates to posts or messages.
Note: Pointing out your own flaws has risks, so you want to treat anything that you are addressing upfront delicately and make a judgment on whether it is worth mentioning in the first place. If you are honest with yourself during the admissions process, then this judgment should be easy to make.
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