Check Your Self: Social Media and Data Mining
Wondering if admissions officers will research your online presence? Assume they will.
While not all admissions offices report to check applicants’ social media accounts, it is best to be safe and review your activity. Admissions may also track your presence on their website (or more generally online). They do this to understand your preferences and gauge the seriousness of your interest in their college.
Here are a few tips for managing these two realities.
Your Social Media Activity
Take a critical look at your social media websites. If admissions were to look at your Facebook account, would they learn something useful about you? Or would they discover that you had posted a comment or photo of yourself that might negatively shape their evaluation of you? Here is a list of things that might negatively affect an admissions officer's view of you:
By the same token, posts that show your engagement in a community, your contributions to positive outcomes are likely to help, not hurt your application.
If you would like to provide admissions with materials that provide a more realistic portrayal of your person, consider using ZeeMe, a personal “locker” that allows you to collect and share videos, photographs, documents, or any other materials that can showcase your activities, interests and person.
Your Online Searches
Also keep in mind that data mining is evermore relevant to all marketing practices, including that of college admissions. Companies such as Capture Higher Education are working with colleges to track the activity of students and help them ascertain whether the student is a good fit and likely to accept admission.
With this in mind, spending time browsing college websites can help improve your chances of being admitted. You should be doing this anyway. Knowing about the colleges you want to attend will improve your interactions with college admissions representatives and your essays, so it is one of the best ways you can use your time.
It’s about time that I answered a question that is now on each and every student’s mind. How many essays will I write? What students really want to know is this: how much work will they be expected to complete and how much time will this take? These are important questions. Students are some of the busiest people I know and their time is limited.
Parents are also concerned about this question. If they are hoping to get advising for their student, how much help will they need? The underlining question parents have is this: How much will it cost?
At this juncture, most students and their parents have yet to understand what goes into the applications. And how should they know? Most parents I meet applied to five colleges with a single essay more than 20 years ago. Some parents studying outside of the country simply provided their grades and test scores. It is hard to imagine what is required by an application when you haven’t seen one.
How Many Applications?
First of all, most students will use at least two online applications to apply to ten or more schools. They will most likely fill out the Common Application and they will complete a state school application such as the University of California application (goes live August 1st). Each state generally has more than one state university system, so students may also fill out a second online state application such as the CSU (California State University) Mentor (goes live October 1st).
If students are applying to other state schools (for example, Western Washington University or Indiana University), they will fill out additional state applications. Some state schools have joined the Common Application: the University of Michigan and the University of Colorado, Boulder, are examples. All of these applications are straightforward and require students to report basic information and submit essays.
Do I provide separate applications to each private or state college?
Yes, in addition to these centralized long application forms within the Common Application or the UC application that go out to each selected campus, you will have additional short forms called supplement applications that you will submit to each college on your list.
If you are applying to Boston University and Pitzer College, for example, you will answer 10 or so questions on their separate supplement applications within the Common Application. On the University of California application you will answer 10 or more questions for each of the separate UCs to which you are applying. For single system state colleges such as Indiana University, or for private colleges that don’t use the Common Application, such as Clemson University, you will fill out a single application.
How Many Essays?
Just as there is a centralized application, so too there are also centralized essays called the personal statement on the Common Application or the personal insight questions on the UC application. Unlike most other state university applications, the CSU system requires no essays.
Just as there are supplement applications, so too there are supplement essays. And this is where the work begins to pile up. You are not expected to write separate supplement essays for each of the UC campuses. However, on the Common Application, for every college or university to which you apply, you can expect to write 3-5 short (250+ words) essays. The math quickly adds up:
10 colleges X 4 essays = 40 essays
40 essays / 10 weeks = 4 essays a week
Most students can’t write four essays in a week. So when I help them organize themselves and schedule their workload, I have them distribute their writing over 15 weeks. This means that if they start to write these essays on August 22nd and they work without procrastinating, they will be done by Thanksgiving. If you are doing the math on how many hours of advising you might need, then figure at least an hour a week for over 15 weeks. That’s 15 hours of advising on the supplement essays alone. Generally speaking, a student needs a minimum of 5 hours of help to write a personal statement for the Common Application or to answer the personal insight questions for the UCs.
Yes, it is A LOT of work. I always tell families that this is like applying to 10 jobs. Not only do you fill out applications and write essays, you also interview and communicate with admissions representatives. The good news: this work is not a waste of time. You are building a skill set in this process that prepares you to seek employment (you'll start applying to jobs as a college student). If you write your essays thoughtfully, you'll also know yourself better and begin to understand what it means to be yourself in college and to define yourself in the job force.
As in life, no effort is lost unless you lose sight of it, so the best mindset for the college application crunch is a positive one. You’ll be in the trenches with all of your peers, so know that you won’t be alone. As I recommend in almost every post here, try to make it fun. Pair up with friends, quit your desk and go find an inspiring place to put in a few hours of work. With just a little bit of creativity, this truly can be an enjoyable undertaking.
If you would like to get a jumpstart on your applications this summer, please consider joining me at my Camp Application during the weekend of August 18th-19th. You’ll have homework to complete over the summer and by the end of the camp you will have drafted your Common Application personal statement, outlined your UC essays, and completed the central sections of your Common Application and UC applications. You’ll also learn how to start on your supplement applications. Sign up soon! 4 seats remaining. See below for details.
How does done feel?
With May 1st in the past and graduation approaching quickly, powerful emotions are likely kicking in. My advice for graduation would be to enjoy yourself. You may start to feel the catch-22: the more you focus on being in the moment, the less you’re actually there. Try to let it all be as it is. Bring your best attitude, and allow things to be imperfect. Spend time with the people that matter most to you and attempt to put as little pressure on these moments as possible. Your fondest memories will never be the ones you plan or predict.
The dust is settling and the entire ordeal is pretty much over. Given that the whole college application process felt like it would never end, this may come as a shock of sorts. In my own experience, after an incredible hustle–touring an array of schools (admittedly, too many), going out for several interviews, clocking hours with each supplement, and ultimately reaching a final decision on where I would go–I remember a sinking feeling that none of those efforts amounted to anything. After all that work, I was only going to one school. To combat these thoughts, I frequently reminded myself that my hard work and time spent on everything was essential to my success and something to be proud of; nothing went to waste, I knew myself better and I’d thought about what I might want to do in college.
As much as you can, start to claim a positive mindset: you’re going to college. It is a milestone and major accomplishment. Try to let go of worries or doubts about the particular school. Think about what moving to college means for you personally, and what new abilities and resources college brings.
Going to college is no longer hypothetical. Now that it’s real, take time to soak in how you’re embarking on a big and wonderful change. Simply going to college is a huge privilege and a big step forward in one’s life. It is worth taking some time for reflection. Try asking yourself: what do I want to get out of college? What and who helped make this journey possible? When you look at it as more than the next predetermined step, what does a college education mean to you personally? What do you want for yourself now?
What to do over the summer
My best recommendation for summer is to spend time with yourself. In high school, a large portion of your focus is taken up by grades, classes, consuming extracurriculars, and college planning stress. This summer is a time to get to know yourself without any of these things in your life or on your mind. Depending on where you are and what you’re studying, you’ll probably encounter more “free” or unstructured time in college. Summer is the perfect time to begin discovering what you like to do with your time and how it feels to have time with yourself.
Furthermore, when you’re meeting people those first weeks, nobody is going to want to hear about high school. They want to hear about you instead; what music you like, what tv shows you watch, your general outlook on life (your zodiac sign, if you go to a hippy school). The more you yourself get to know your non-academic side, the more prepared and relaxed you’ll be when you arrive to campus and begin making new connections.
If you feel like you’re confident in your interests and self, take the summer to try out some things that are completely different. When you do get to college, you’ll be able to continue to explore becoming your best, most wholesome, person.
Can’t Wait To Start?
If you really need to focus on college, then fulfill your curiosity by doing research that will help you to improve your first year of life on a college campus. Consider looking into these things and asking yourself these questions:
The Pre-Freshman Summer. Many colleges and universities offer a summer immersion program that allows you to get ahead and experience college. You can familiarize yourself with the campus, courses and professors, giving yourself what Cal terms “the freshman edge.” Call the admissions office at your college/university if you can’t find a program on the website. For an example, here is a link to a Cal program for incoming freshman.
Next Up: For Juniors: How Many Essays Do I Have To Write?
Each year we hear about new developments in the college admissions process. On the West Coast we heard that the UCs would continue to increase their resident enrollments and place a 20% cap on out-of-state admissions. The big news on the East Coast came through Harvard’s petition to college admissions offices, parents and educators to change the culture of overachievement by promoting a focus on greater kindness and concern for others in high school students.
Admissions results from 2017 reveal that despite the optimism that college admissions might change, for now admission rates continue to drop and competition continues to rise. The most dramatic drop we saw this year was in admission to programs in computer science. The good news is that students appear to have even more control than in past years of shaping their admission to private small liberal arts colleges and some out of state public schools.
How to Proceed in 2017-18
Felicia Fahey PhD
Felicia is a comprehensive educational consultant. She works with college bound students of all ages close to home, across the country and around the globe.