Entering college is the major first step into entering adulthood for many teens. Things have changed dramatically since I entered college. One thing that I did not have to worry about was managing my digital footprint – the tracks a person leaves behind when they are online. Now, college admissions officers frequently look for a potential applicant’s online presence in making a decision. Kaplan Test Prep reported in 2014 that 35% of admissions officers check for a digital footprint. I expect that figure is higher as the schools involved become more competitive.
Options for Creating a Positive Digital Presence
One option would be to not have a digital footprint at all. It avoids the risks with having someone finding dubious content about them. However, that is not the approach that today’s teenagers should take as they prepare for college. First, it’s almost impossible to find a teenager that doesn’t have an online presence. That means that a personal public relations campaign is in order.
Avoiding posting questionable content online in the first place and focus on projecting a positive image is the approach to take. I recommend that anyone expecting to have a professional career create LinkedIn and Twitter accounts as early as possible. Building an online presence and solid reputation takes time. Sometimes, years! LinkedIn can be especially helpful for teenagers looking to attend college. When the site lowered its minimum age years ago, many people wondered what the rationale was for doing so. It was to allow teenagers to interact with potential colleges.
As for Twitter, I recommend that you use it to network with others by interacting in online discussions, usually coordinated by using a hashtag. Another great way to build up your network and your online reputation is to use Twitter in conjunction with content collectors to create e-newspapers. Start by finding reputable people on Twitter and add them to a Twitter list. Use that list to pull content. Here’s one such paper that I publish daily to help parents stay informed on cyberbullying. For my e-newspapers, I have the site require that the tweet come from a person on my list and that they use a related hashtag. That helps avoid any personal or unrelated tweets that they may send out on Twitter.
Once you’ve created an online presence that is worthy of being seen, make sure that the college recruiters and admissions staff have links to your accounts. Make sure that they see what you’ve done.
Importance of Building a Website
I also recommend that college-bound students create a personal website. This provides them with a place to create their own blog and show off their skills, especially their writing skills. Personally, I use WIX to create my own website. It can be done for free, but it will be easy to recognize that it’s a free site provided by WIX based on the URL that WIX assigns to it. For a small monthly fee, you can create a site that has no reference to WIX in the URL. Either way, creating a personal website is a must these days for students heading off to college.
And when students graduate college and enter the “real” world, the same steps that they have taken to get into college will also help them enter their professional lives. Just as admissions offices are looking for a digital footprint, so are employers!
Advice for Parents
Parents now face a dilemma as their kids enter high school and prepare for becoming an adult in just a few years. As any parent of a teenager knows, they’re looking for more freedom and less oversight by their parental units. While there is still no substitute for occasionally signing onto your child’s accounts, I like a relatively new app called VISR.
It acts like a 24 hour monitoring service for your kids' social media apps, letting parents know when something potentially troubling happens. This not only makes parents rest easier, but it lets the teens get their independence while still knowing that Mom & Dad are looking out for them.
As a parent, if you’re looking to monitor your children’s activities while still taking a low profile approach, here are two tools to help you. The first applies specifically to Twitter. If you are concerned that other people may be saying inappropriate things about your family, you can use the site’s Advanced Search feature to help you find any potential problems.
Finally, you can use Google Alerts to have the site scour the Internet and send you emails when it finds content that meets your search criteria. I always recommend this to parents who want to keep informed on what others may be saying about their kids but they don’t know how to get started or want to minimize the time required to search for it.