10 Ways to Manage Your Social Media Footprint

In working with hundreds of thousands of college and graduate school applicants each year, Kaplan Test Prep seeks to help students put their best foot forward during every part of the admissions process…even in areas that they didn't know play a role in the admissions process. Informed by insights from our annual surveys of college, business school, graduate school, law school and medical school admissions officers, which found that what you post online can hurt (and sometimes help) your admissions chances, we provide the following tips on what you can do to manage your online profile.

  1. Check your digital trail and keep it clean. In Kaplan's 2012 survey of college admissions officers*, 26% said they have visited applicants' social networking pages, while 27% Googled them to learn more – and 35% said what they found negatively impacted their admissions chances. Search yourself on Google, Yahoo and other search engines, and clean up anything that doesn't put you in a positive light.
  2. Limit your profile searchability. Facebook's default settings allow anyone to find your profile online. You can disable this so that search engines won't link to your profile. Go to Account - Privacy Settings - Apps and Websites - Public Search (Edit Settings) and uncheck "Enable Public Search". Or, if you just want to limit parts of your profile, go to Edit Profile and select the privacy level (Public, Friends, Only Me, Custom) for each profile data point using the dropdown boxes to the right.
  3. Keep your profile photo appropriate. Be aware that even if you set your privacy settings so you're searchable but only friends can see your posts and pictures, your name and profile photo are still visible. If so, make sure your photo is what you want to present if someone pulls up your profile.
  4. Control who can contact you on Facebook. By default, anyone on Facebook can send you a message. You can change this setting to "friends of friends," so only people who have a mutual friend can contact you. Click Account - Privacy Settings - How You Connect. For greater control, the "friends only" setting will allow only people in your network to contact you.
  5. Remove your past posts from public view. A recently added privacy setting, "Limit The Audience For Past Posts" will change content that may previously have been publicly posted to be only viewable by Friends in your network.
  6. Take control of tagging on your profile. Facebook's default settings allow friends to tag you in their photos, profile posts, and even check you into places – which can be public without your knowledge. Change these settings so only friends can see these posts. Go to "How Tags Work" under Privacy settings and opt out. You can also choose to review all tags before they are linked to your profile so that your friends don't have the chance to link embarrassing party photos without your permission.
  7. Filter your Friends network. In Kaplan's survey, some college admissions officers said they only visited an applicant's Facebook profile when tipped off anonymously. Unless you trust every single one of your Facebook friends 100%, set up different lists with different privacy settings. Click on "Lists" - "Create a List" and select which friends go into which list.
  8. Make your Twitter account permission-only. If you have a Twitter account, by default, anybody can view your tweets and follow you. To protect your privacy and tweets, go to Settings - Accounts – and then check "Protect my tweets." That way people can only follow you and see your tweets if you've given them permission to do so.
  9. Or, change your Twitter name. If you want to make your Twitter account public but not associated with your name, change your name by clicking on "Settings" on the drop down menu at the top right corner of your profile page (click on the upside-down triangle). Go to the "Accounts" tab and the first listing is "Name". You can create a different name for yourself.
  10. Be smart and think about everything you post online before you do it. The Internet has a LONG memory. After all your hard work, the last thing you want to keep you out of your top school or program choices is an inappropriate Facebook photo or offensive tweet. Posting that a school is your "safety" school can come back to bite you. (According to Kaplan's research, it has!)

For more on Kaplan's surveys, go to press.kaptest.com.

*Kaplan will be releasing results from its graduate-level admissions officers surveys later this fall.

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95% claim based on survey responses by thousands of Kaplan students and parents in each of 2012 and 2013.
‡Higher Score Guarantee: Conditions and restrictions apply. For eligibility requirements, visit kaptest.com/hsg.