Online reputation management tips to improve your child’s college application

For today’s digitally connected generation, a good online reputation has become part of a successful college application. More and more, colleges and universities are using information posted online to rank applicants. This article provides tips for online reputation management that can help your high schooler gain an admissions edge and improve his or her chances at scholarships or financial aid.

Today’s Web-savvy colleges use more social media techniques than Fortune 500 corporations do. As early as 2006, reports began surfacing that colleges were conducting Internet searches of potential applicants. In fact, two recent studies commissioned for Microsoft Data Privacy Day show that the gap between people’s actual and perceived online behavior is growing. As school officials make online reputation searches standard practice for admissions, does your teen know these tips to improve your child’s college application and how to start building a positive online reputation?

Educate your teen on Internet privacy and online reputation.

Know how your teen uses the Internet and make sure s/he understands basic online privacy practices: Keep Facebook profiles private, don’t post phone numbers or addresses online, be selective about “friending” acquaintances or strangers and keep track of publicly available photos. These kinds of preventative measures can go a long way toward building a good online reputation.

In addition, you’ll want to motivate your teen to keep his or her personal information private. Demonstrate how higher educational institutions are using social media. A recent study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth provides useful statistics and background information for this purpose.

Monitor your teen’s online reputation.

Think like an admissions officer and search for your teen’s name online. Then, you'll see why we suggest these tips to improve your child’s college application.  You’ll want to note three types of results: negative or defamatory information, postings that show questionable judgement or otherwise pose a liability risk, and positive information that highlights your teen’s accomplishments. You can simplify and automate this process by setting up a Google Alerts subscription. This service sends you updates whenever Google finds a new link related to the search terms you provide. Enter your teen’s name and any nicknames, as well as other terms connected to relevant activities and organizations.

If you find negative information, take proactive steps to remove it. If the information originates from a friend or classmate of your teen, start by talking to his or her parents or contacting your teen’s school.

Questionable postings made by your teen are relatively simple to deal with, as long as you can convince him or her to delete the posts. But if your teen has listed personal information, people-finder indexes like Spokeo might have picked it up. Colleges can then use this data to search the deep Web for additional information about your child — which might not reflect positively on his or her application. Luckily there steps you can take to remove information from Spokeo and similar indexes.

Conduct digital PR activities to manage your teen’s personal brand.

Online reputation management for college admissions should go beyond simply erasing the bad. You also want to help your child develop a positive personal brand that will increase the chances of admission and receiving a scholarship.

Avoid the urge to rewrite your teen’s blog and Facebook pages yourself; you don’t want the content to sound out of character. Many teens are looking for advice on the college admissions process. Take advantage of this opportunity but make them do the work themselves. Sit down with your child, review his or her online presence and provide editorial suggestions for improving his or her online reputation.

If you’re not sure what should be posted online, start with information provided by the school. Many colleges now publish information on how to make a good impression, and you can use these tips to tailor your child’s online reputation. In addition, you can find out just how Web savvy a school is by what it posts online. For example, the MIT Admissions blog is fairly comprehensive, so it’s likely that your teen’s social media presence will be considered by admissions officers at MIT.

Next, emphasize your teen’s accomplishments and any other positive information you found through your Internet searches. Has your child engaged in community service initiatives or extracurricular activities? Does he or she have a hobby or small business that demonstrates initiative or other positive qualities? Having your child write a few blog posts on these accomplishments or provide links to his or her extracurricular activities can help give admissions officers a positive impression.

Digital PR can also help to rectify errors. One common curriculum mistake is taking easy, GPA-boosting electives instead of more rigorous college prep classes. But if these classes can be connected to your teen’s extracurricular activities, career interests or service activities, they can be transformed into a competitive advantage.

Of course, you shouldn’t overdo things. Colleges don’t typically ask for links to your child’s online PR portfolio, so don’t provide them unless asked. Focus on a strong application, and let the admissions officers find the extra content themselves. Done correctly, the use of tasteful, age-appropriate postings that emphasize your child’s strengths can help to distinguish his or her application from the pack.  Hopefully, with these tips to improve your child’s college application, he or she will get into the school of his or her choice.