Your Online Branding Strategy When Applying To Grad School
Prospective graduate students must prepare extensively when applying for further study. They must study hard and score well on admissions tests, as well as polish essays and resumes. But one area many neglect to consider is their online branding strategy.
Social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, photo-sharing sites, like Flickr, and blogs maintained by graduate school applicants all have the potential to affect an admissions decision. Whether applying for medical school or pursuing a MBA degree, it is wise to examine one’s online profiles and, if necessary, use some of the techniques described below to make them ready for review by the admissions team when applying to grad school.
Applicants must first understand that there are real risks to leaving these profiles open for anyone to see. A survey by Kaplan, the test preparation company, found 41 percent of law school admissions officers conduct a simple search on applicants, and 37 percent say they check applicants’ Facebook profiles. A lower percentage of admissions officers at business schools and colleges report investigating applicants’ online profiles, but a sizable number do, and the trend is towards increased scrutiny.
Even more concerning, the same survey found nearly a third of law school admissions officers found online content about applicants that negatively affected their candidacy for admission. With no shortage of data like this, applicants would be foolish to leave their online profiles unchecked.
Fortunately, social media users can control what they share publicly on the web with relative ease. Twitter allows users to make accounts protected, which means no one can follow the person and see his or her tweets without the user’s approval. Facebook includes a set of privacy controls that users can employ to limit who sees their photos, wall posts, and even who can search for and find their profile within Facebook.
Some people find these controls confusing and complex, so, when in doubt, restrict sharing to only close friends or even no one at all. And use the “Grandmother test” by asking yourself: Would I be comfortable with my grandmother seeing this? If the answer is no, don’t post it.
If setting privacy controls is not enough to change the Google search results for your name, there are other options. Many experts suggest building your online brand with active presences that reflect positively on you, so that those results show up instead of the salacious photos from a friend’s bachelor party.
Katherine Cohen, founder and CEO of Ivywise and Applywise.com told U.S. News and World Report starting an active blog related to the field you are applying to graduate school for might even help you gain admittance. Developing skills with social media can be an asset, especially in online degree programs like the University of Southern California’s MAT degree program, in which students use social networking tools as part of their online learning experience.
4. Reach Out
Companies and consultants are also available to help people manage their online presences. “We realized there is a growing trend among B-schools to go beyond the submitted application by also exploring a candidate’s social media profile,” said Dan Bauer, managing director of admissions consultancy, The MBA Exchange. “The admissions staff wants to see how future MBAs presents themselves on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.” His firm investigates and cleans up an applicant’s online presence.
Companies like Reputation.com and myID.com offer a variety of services to people concerned about what information shows up online. These services go beyond simple Google searches and social media privacy settings to find information on the deep web that applicants might not even know is out there.
Despite all these warnings, applicants should not panic. Most admissions officers say that they are simply too busy and do not have the resources to check up on each and every applicant’s online profiles. “We don’t systematically Google applicants or look up people on Facebook,” says Lisa Beisser, senior associate director of MBA admissions at North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, “But if something strange comes up in an applicant’s essay, we will check a Facebook page.”
So, be careful with what you share online, but don’t give yourself a headache stressing about something that shows up on the 12th page of Google results.
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