Student Guide to Social Media

A smiling woman in a purple blouse, in an outdoor cafe, checks both her phone and laptop.

Having social media profiles has become a standard in our always-connected world. While earlier generations explored social media in its infancy, in today’s society, curating a social profile is all but required. It’s still an open question of whether a college or prospective employer should look at social media profiles, but more and more are using them as a way to get to know candidates.

A social media mistake could cost you acceptance into or scholarship for your college of choice or your dream job. This guide will help you edit your profiles to make them look more professional.

Who Is Looking at My Social Media Pages?

College recruiters and human resource departments alike will look at your social media pages. The impact can be substantial, and the difference in getting into the perfect college or being hired at a dream job.

Do Colleges Look at Social Media?

About 68 percent of colleges are open to using social media when determining if an applicant is right for their college, according to a Kaplan Test Prep survey. Only about a third of recruiters actually factor in social media profiles and their contents, however, when making a determination. Only about 20 percent of recruiters are explicitly forbidden from taking social media into consideration.

“I think if things are publicly accessible without undue intrusion, it’s OK. If it’s searchable, it’s fair game,” one admissions officer told Kaplan.

“We don’t [check social media], but we could,” another admissions officer said. “I think high school seniors make poor choices sometimes when they put stuff online.”

It is entirely possible to receive an offer only for it to be rescinded. Nine percent of admissions officers have revoked an admission offer to an incoming student due to social media content. Famously, Harvard University revoked 10 offers after the incoming freshmen posted offensive images in a private Facebook group.

Admissions officers have to answer the question of whether they want a prospective student as part of their scholastic community, and social media provides insight toward answering this question. If, for example, the student engaged in cyberbullying while in high school, the college may not want that person as part of its community, unless the applicant can demonstrate they have changed.

The same goes for applying to a master’s or doctorate program. While you may have been accepted to a bachelor’s program, it’s important to maintain social media vigilance. Continue curating your profile if you intend on continuing your education, just as you would if you were entering the workforce, and especially if you are choosing a program at a new college. Higher education administration is keenly aware of social issues and how they are addressed on social media. Taking part in the conversation in a diplomatic, professional way could is best practice when applying for a program.

Do Employers Use Social Media to Screen Job Applicants?

The majority of employers are now looking at social media during the hiring process. Continuing the trend from 2017, 70 percent of recruiters in 2018 researched candidates’ social media, while 57 percent found content that led to them not hiring a candidate. It does not stop after hiring, either; 34 percent of employers have fired or reprimanded an employee after reviewing social media content. A company may even have a designated social media checker to keep up to date on your social profiles.

Not having a social media account can hurt almost as much as having questionable content, as 47 percent of employers are less likely to invite a candidate to an interview if they can’t be found online.

Globally, 70 percent of people agree that the notion of working for one employer for your entire career is old-fashioned. Whether you’re on your first or your fifth job search, don’t let your social media profile give hiring managers the wrong impression.

How to Pass a Social Media Background Check: Best Practices for a Professional Online Profile

Across all platforms, the goal is to curate your profiles. Social media profiles are easy ways for recruiters or social media checkers to learn about you with little effort. Your hobbies, interests, associations, and skills are all on display. Your profiles are not anonymous; you can’t count on your resume, filled with your expertise and constructed to put your best foot forward, to cover up damaging posts or images.

Your online footprint can usually be tracked, and its content can be evaluated. It’s best to assume that everyone has access to your social media accounts. Your parents, future boss, current teachers, future professors, and admissions officers can all potentially see facets of your account. Is there anything there you would not want them to see? If the answer is yes, it’s time to curate your account.

When in doubt, do an online search for yourself and ask how, objectively, you look to the outside world. Would you hire you?

What Are Social Media Checkers Looking For?

When screeners comb through your online profiles, essentially doing a background check, they are looking for a number of red flags. Is your profile picture friendly and professional? What is an average post or tweet like? Do you use profanity, express extreme views, bully others, or engage in some other form of negative or questionable behavior? Are you networking? These are all taken into account.

Red flags include, but are not limited to: unprofessional profile pictures, inappropriate images you are tagged in, negative posts (such as criticizing or complaining about your current job — 34 percent of recruiters in 2015 declined to hire someone due to this) — or engaging in heated arguments. The items you share and the comments you make are all potential fodder for employers and recruitment officers. Adolescent opinions could become liabilities when you are trying to get a fellowship or apply for a higher degree, if a professor sees the post and notes you were not civil.

Potentially worse than a negative online presence is having none at all.

“The key is drawing a line between ‘professional you’ and ‘personal you,’” Monster’s Liz Torres said. “While it’s fine to keep your personal Twitter name private, I think it’s a good idea to have a searchable Twitter name that depicts ‘professional you,’ what you bring to the table and what you want to showcase — really the best side of you.” She added, “Your resume is a bit one-dimensional. And you only have maybe a 15-minute interview to sell yourself. Often, that’s not enough. But on social media, you have the time to craft what you bring to the table, and to add color and to become more memorable. That’s the main benefit of social media.”

Use Professional Profile Pictures

The images featured in your social accounts can be the most important element within your control. There is a science to what a profile picture can tell about a person. Generally, a profile picture is the first thing a person will notice on a social media profile, and first impressions, as the saying goes, are everything. Having the wrong profile picture could send the wrong message, hurting your chances of getting the acceptance letter or interview invitation. Across your accounts, be sure to use professional profile pictures. A simple head shot is often best. You want to show that you are ready to enter the college or working world. Anything containing profanity, nudity, alcohol, racial slurs, and the like should be avoided.

The photo should be a crisp, clear photo of you. Blurry or pixelated photos can look unprofessional. A photo that is not of you hurts your personal brand, as much as recruiters might love looking at your pet. Having a default photo, like the Twitter egg, can make you appear lazy or lackluster.

Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

  • Do not overshare. While providing some personal information is fine, detailing every part of your life is too much. It’s important to have an online footprint, but don’t post things you don’t want the public at large to see. While you can tweak privacy settings, leaks and hacks happen.
  • Avoid negative posts, such as complaining or bad mouthing. This also includes comments on others’ profiles or timeline. You may not agree with their opinion or point of view, but it’s important to remain civil. The same goes for overt bragging or highly emotional content.
  • Watch your language on public posts. While colleges and employers may tolerate some foul language, it’s best to scrub your profile as best you can.
  • Don’t forget copy editing. Posts riddled with grammar and spelling errors don’t put your best foot forward.
  • Avoid offensive jokes, including photos and memes.
  • Don’t be a cyberbully. This can include harassing, excluding, or cyber stalking.
  • Don’t trust privacy settings. Just as nothing on the internet is ever truly deleted, it’s best to assume that anything you post might potentially be seen by someone it was not meant for.

These types of social media mistakes can add up, or a single one could be a deal breaker. For example, a woman tweeted out that she got an internship at NASA, but the tweet was vulgar. When a reply cautioned her to watch her language, she doubled down and mocked the commenter, using more profanity. The tweets cost her the internship.

The man she replied to was Homer Hickham, a famous aerospace engineer, former NASA employee, and current member of the National Space Council that oversees NASA. While Hickham had no say in the hiring process, NASA employees saw the tweets and revoked the internship offer.

“I’m a Vietnam vet and not at all offended by the F-word,” Hickham told People magazine. “However, when I saw NASA and the word used together, it occurred to me that this person might get in trouble if NASA saw it.”

How to Use Social Media Effectively in College

Social media can be a tool used to network and engage with potential employers or influencers in your field. “Like” or “follow” important people and organizations, including prospective employers.

It’s also important to provide resources by “sharing” or “retweeting,” to show that you are not only knowledgeable, but helpful to others in your field. Have conversations about the content, and give your analysis on news in your fields of interest.

Social media is meant to be just that: social. Connect with other students and professors. Make friends, chat with colleagues, and utilize social media to get to know your chosen niche.

Posts photos of events with your colleagues, such as at presentations or volunteering.

Think of your profiles as your personal brand. How do you want to be seen? How do you want to market yourself to employers?


To curate and edit your Facebook profile, you need to know how to change your profile and cover photos, check your activity log, review likes, groups, and sharing, verify your contact information and about me section are professional, and review privacy settings.

Changing your profile and cover photos are easy. Hover over each photo, and click Update Profile Picture and Change Cover Photo, respectively.

Your activity log can be accessed by clicking the down arrow in the upper left corner of the screen and choosing Activity Log. From here, you can clean up your interactions with Facebook, from changing privacy to removing reactions.

From the same down arrow, go to settings and privacy. You can limit past posts, which can be especially helpful if you have been on Facebook for a long time, before privacy settings changed. You can also change privacy settings for your profile and timeline. It may be worth choosing the tagging setting that allows you to review all posts you are tagged in.

By going to the groups section, you can unsubscribe or unlike groups that do not fit your personal brand image. Delete unnecessary apps, such as connected games.

Finally, by clicking on your name and edit profile, you can ensure information is correct and up to date. Make sure the about me section reflects your personal brand is professional.


Curating photos is likely something you already do with Instagram. However, ensuring all the photos are something you want the public at large to see is important, as is having a professional profile photo, bio, and story highlights.

Changing your profile photo and bio are as easy as going to your profile page and hitting “edit profile.”

The easiest way to hide photos without deleting them is using the Instagram app of your phone. Hit the ellipsis button to access settings on an individual photo, and hit archive.

By going to the privacy settings in your profile, you can also enable manual tagging. You can review every photo you are tagged in and hide it from your profile.


Your action list for cleaning your LinkedIn means reviewing the following: Profile picture, current professional status, contact information, summary, relevant experience, job experience, education, volunteer experience, skills, and endorsements. You will also need a personalized URL, and to ensure the information is uniform with your college or job applications.

First, click on your name. This will bring you to your profile. You can add profile sections by clicking the similarly labeled button, adding information about yourself. Otherwise, click the pencil in the top card of your profile.

Here, you can change most of the vital pieces of information, such as current professional status, your summary, and create a personalized URL for your page. You can change your profile picture or cover photo by clicking on the respective camera buttons. Be sure that the information on your LinkedIn page does not conflict with your resume. Double-check that years, numbers, and content are uniform.

LinkedIn tends to be used more by employers as it is seen as a business social profile. You will want to update it as much as possible with your skills and experience. Think of it as an expanded resume.

Still, like Facebook above, it is a social media platform. Post news and analysis of your industry. Review posts made to your profile and delete as appropriate.


Pinterest can almost be seen in the same light as the groups you like on Facebook. You create a board that is often a bucket for similar images or tutorials in image form. Each of these boards reveals a bit about your personality and interests. For that reason, the main part of curating your Pinterest account is ensuring that you would want recruiters to see what you have pinned.

From your profile page, hit the pencil to edit your profile. There, you can change your profile picture, bio, and username.

You can also make certain boards private, so that only people shared on the boards can see them. This is important for hiding boards you do not want recruiters to see.


Snapchat, by default, only lets people who are your friends see or comment on your story. The app also, by default, does not let people see your snaps for long.

While it used to be possible to have a custom profile photo, it’s now Bitmojis. You can change your Bitmoji by tapping the ghost icon in the top left of the app. Tap your profile photo, and edit Bitmoji.

Much like all the other social media profiles, you will want to try your best to be professional.

Remember that snaps can be saved, though you are notified of a save. Be careful what you post, even if it feels like the snap will be deleted, and remember to be professional in your snaps.

If you want to make your profile more private, such as by controlling who can find your profile, head to settings and tap “Who Can…”


The major elements of cleaning up your Twitter profile are your profile and cover photos, tweet and retweet history, people you are following, and your followers.

Changing your photos is as easy as navigating to your profile and hitting the Edit Profile button.

Deleting tweets is as easy as clicking the down arrow next to a tweet and hitting delete. If you need to delete a retweet, simply hit the retweet button. It will turn gray and you are no longer retweeting that tweet.

Culling your following list should be your next step. Unfollow inactive users, or anyone you don’t know that is not in your field of interest or job field. Follow people in those fields, so that you can engage and interact with them. Finally, block or mute followers you don’t want. These could include people harassing you or bots that have followed you.


YouTube, as a Google product, has similar settings to other Google products and can be edited from your Google account.

Like all of your other profiles, go over your posted videos and see if they are something you would want the public to see. In particular, if the video is something you would want a potential employer to see, or someone who decides whether you get into a specific college.

If the video does not pass that test, cut it. Unless, of course, you are going into the video production field and you can explain why you kept the video, what you have learned from it, and what you would do differently. As with many pieces of art, you can use it to show how you have grown. This assumes, of course, that it follows the rules listed above and is not profanity-laden or derogatory.

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