Students learn how colleges review social media pages

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 17, 2015

 Julie Fisher, executive director of Building Better Families Through Action, told senior students that 35-50 percent of colleges and universities are researching applicants’ social media accounts.

Julie Fisher, executive director of Building Better Families Through Action, told senior students that 35-50 percent of colleges and universities are researching applicants’ social media accounts.

Photo by Victoria Zegler


WEST BLOOMFIELD —  ’Tis the season for college applications.

Admissions officers traditionally review GPAs, essays and extracurricular activities, but 35-50 percent of colleges and universities are also researching a student’s electronic footprint, according to Julie Fisher, executive director of Building Better Families Through Action. And if a student is on a waiting list or in the running for a scholarship, that percentage goes “way up,” she added.

Fisher spoke to West Bloomfield High School seniors Sept. 11 about being a digitally smart teen.

The moment someone clicks “enter” or “send” on a post, they are adding to their digital footprint, which contains every photo, every video, every text and every social media post ever created under their name, Fisher said. The program was sponsored by the Greater West Bloomfield Community Coalition and West Bloomfield Youth Assistance.

“When I was in school, they talked to us about our permanent record. And back then, our permanent record was essentially our grades or any kind of disciplinary action we had taken against us that got put into our file. … Everything you’re doing online makes up your permanent record, and it’s going to follow you,” Fisher said.

But colleges and universities are not the only entities reviewing digital footprints. Employers are also researching employment candidates’ social media accounts before hiring them.

West Bloomfield High School Principal Pat Watson told the students that when he interviews candidates for positions at the school, he looks at their social media pages to ensure they are going to best represent the high school.

“The things you’re doing can impact you the way you may not want,” Watson said.

Social media networks want users to post; however, sometimes users are guilty of posting something that perhaps they shouldn’t have posted, Fisher said.

“You hit delete, (but) does it really delete? No, because the moment you hit enter, send, post, whatever the button says, you lose control of your content. It bounces from server to server,” Fisher said.

And even though a post might only be up for a few seconds, in those few seconds, an imprint has been left on different servers, leaving what Fisher calls “digital breadcrumbs.”

“Your IP address has been registered, and you have no way to control if somebody (takes a) screen shot … and saves it on their phone,” Fisher said.

Fisher told the seniors that before posting anything, they should ask themselves if they would be OK if parents, grandparents, principals, teachers, coaches, clergy, or police or admissions officers saw what they were posting.

“If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to every single one of those … then you shouldn’t be posting it,” she said.

Colleges and universities are businesses, and the role of the admissions department is to find students who will positively represent their brand, Fisher said. If admissions officers see someone using poor judgment online, they will interpret that as a sign that the applicant will show poor judgment representing the school.

So what can teens, and even adults applying for jobs, do to clean up their electronic footprint?

Fisher said people should be themselves and use their real name, get rid of profanity, set privacy controls, opt out of tags, review posts before posting, avoid posts that contain alcohol or that show illegal actions, and live by the Golden Rule. Though a user is entitled to an opinion, it doesn’t mean they should post it, Fisher said.

Teens should also have a strong password and give the password to their parents.

“It’s really important that your parents have access to your passwords. You are a minor. They are responsible for your life offline and online, and sometimes things come up that you can’t control and teenagers get into trouble.

“If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. You should keep calm and you should try and bury it. No. 1, delete, but No. 2, repopulate your site with information you want people to see,” Fisher said.