While applying to college and graduate schools students need to understand that many universities are deploying social media monitoring services to review the personal digital accounts of applicants and/or using Orwellian application management software to track the Internet web surfing history of applicants and their families. This is why high school students need to learn how to limit and protect their searchable digital profile during the college application process.
High School Students Should Not Have A Public LinkedIn Profile
The first tip is that high school students should not have a public LinkedIn profile. Convicted sex offenders, pedophiles, and cyber criminals are targeting teens and using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. to connect with their targets. If a teenager wants to have a limited private LinkedIn account this should be done with caution. Any discrepancies between your college application and your LinkedIn profile will raise a red flag and lead to a rejection or a revocation. There is no need to include too many personal details on a non-public LinkedIn account because LinkedIn is selling your data to others and unscrupulous companies are data scraping LinkedIn profiles and using this information to discriminate against job applicants.
Limit Your Searchable Digital Footprint
Its not just sexual predators and digital kidnappers, college admissions officials are also checking out teens’ digital activities and they are doing so to reject them and revoke offers. During the college application process the goal is for high school students to have a clean and minimal public digital footprint so when (not if) the admissions office runs a deep digital background check, or demands a student provide access to their personal social media accounts there isn’t anything that the admissions office can use against your candidacy.
Avoid Social Media Curation/Profile Services
Many colleges now allow applicants to upload video directly into their digital application system so generally there is no need to create your own digital platform to showcase your talents. Colleges are making it easier to upload content due to economic inequity around the country. If you decide to direct college admissions officials to your personal digital assets make sure they do not contain any data points that may raise a question about your character, integrity, or judgement.
Students do not need to spend thousands of dollars on a personal website and do not need to buy social media curation services because one wrong digital data point posted or uploaded will not only led to a rejection it will also cause higher car insurance rates and price discrimination.
Social media consultants who are peddling college application digital curation services to students are snake oil salesman that can’t be trusted. One of these consultants who had no verifiable experience protecting teens in the digital space before opening a consultancy in this area claimed right before Harvard revoked at least 10 offers based on inappropriate social media posts, “colleges are not looking at their social media for reasons to reject them. They’re looking at their social media to find reasons to learn more about them. To accept them.” For years colleges have revoked offers and scholarships based on applicants’ digital foot print so I believe this consultant made these statements to intentionally provide false and misleading information for personal financial gain.
Guard Your Digital Life
Students need to have the mindset of the Protect This House Under Armour ad campaign. College application digital preparations should emulate how you prepare for litigation. You only want the judge or jury to weigh the information admitted into evidence. If you don’t submit it you don’t want the data to affect your trial’s outcome or your candidacy. In general, less is more. For years, this philosophy has allowed me to successfully advise many students and their families when colleges have demanded access to the personal digital accounts of my clients.
Use Privacy Tools
Its imperative for teens to use finstas/fake accounts and privacy enhancing services to cover their digital tracks. For example, a virtual private network (VPN) is a must have for college bound students. Free VPNs may sell your data to your dream school so be careful about which service you choose.
The bottom line is that students and their families need to learn how to protect themselves from the ever increasing digital surveillance that is now part of the college application process. If you need to better understand these issues I can help at www.digitalarmour.io. My work and advocacy for students has protected the digital lives of more college and job applicants than anyone else in the country (This statement will hold up in a court of law and under any state attorney general or FTC inquiry) and I literally wrote the law on how colleges and employers may interact with applicants online so I know how to “protect your house” and counsel students on best digital practices during the college application process and beyond.
Brad Shear is the founder and general counsel of Digital Armour which advises students, professionals, corporate and non-profit clients about the legal, privacy, reputation, & security issues inherent in the Digital Age.