Tracing Your Digital Footsteps

© Savenkomasha |

Have you opened your inbox recently to discover a slew of emails from colleges? Thinking about your digital footprints, social media, and how they connect to your college search and admissions process is another piece in putting together the college application puzzle. Are colleges tracking you? In a world of interconnection, living in the open, and sharing aspects of our personal lives, may require guidelines, particularly for high school or college students asserting their place in the world. Simply stated, a digital life as an extension of your story does require some intentional thought about what and why to share.

Creating social media accounts can provide an opportunity to share activities and projects, and connect with others with similar interests. It also may be a chance to expand views and conversations. With online group and community activities that do not have the added visual cue of face-to-face interaction, knowing the rules or etiquette can make online connections meaningful and help avoid misconstrued, or potentially inflammatory rhetoric. Extending your world and your community can be a positive opportunity, but creating a false persona or inventing a personal brand is not the goal. Recognizing that your digital life is an extension of yourself and your character is only one aspect of the college application process. Not every student has an online presence, and in fact, it isn’t a prerequisite to apply to college. Who you are is something college admissions teams want to know. And, there are many avenues to conveying what makes you “you,” so if you aren’t interested or haven’t created any social media accounts, staying off the grid is more than o.k.

If you’ve signed up for a college newsletter, summer program, or toured a college, you won’t be too surprised if you are getting emails and letters from those schools. If you registered to take the SAT or ACT, you also might start receiving emails and correspondence from schools not on your radar. What you may not realize is what test companies do with your information. Registering your email with SAT or ACT and not opting out from having your information shared cuts both ways. On the one hand, receiving information from a broader range of colleges can help expand a student’s view of schools to consider when starting their college search. It also means students need to be savvy and recognize that just because you receive an email from “XYZ College” doesn’t guarantee you will be accepted. 

So what are some parameters for your online life beyond the golden rule of “don’t post or share something you would not want your Grandmother to see”?

  • Are family and friends part of your digital footprint because they are posting and sharing information about you? And, if so, does it align with how you see yourself and how you want others to see you?

  • When does posting become oversharing?

  • Consider what types of conversation broaden discussions and when something should be shared privately.

  • Consider using the 10-10-10 rule and how you might feel about a post.

  • You may think you have a private account, but if you have followers with a public account, it may provide a backdoor for others to see your social media accounts.

While many colleges do not have the time or resources to review every applicant’s social media accounts, many schools do, and that number is ticking up. If there is something questionable that is inconsistent with the character of what a student has asserted themselves to be, a college may rescind their offer or move an application into the “deny” pile. Conversely, you may have a project of particular interest that lives on the internet that you want to showcase.

Connection to the world, building community, and sharing opinions online can be an opportunity for positive impact in a light-hearted or purposeful way. While smartphone posts and tweets are often created in the palm of your hand or on a laptop screen, they still are part of a two-way communication process. While there may not be a group of people peering through your phone or laptop camera at any one given moment, you can be sure anything you post will be seen and will become part of your digital footprints. So what else do you need to know as you enter the world of social media? Luckily there is no shortage of advice for both high school and college students, and the articles below provide more advice for what you need to know.

Colleges Mine Data on Their Applicants, Douglas Belkin, Washington Post

8 Ways to Better Navigate the Internet in 2020, Tim Herrera, New York Times

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