You may think you’ve done everything you can to create a winning college application — from maintaining stellar grades and writing a Pulitzer-worthy essay to dedicating all your free time to every extracurricular activity under the sun.

But if you haven’t given the same level of thoughtfulness to your online persona, it could all be for naught. 

Think of Social Media as a Public Place

While admissions officers don’t always take social media profiles into consideration, many do. It’s safest to assume that you will come under digital scrutiny at some point in the process, so be sure to comb through your profiles for any inappropriate content. 

“Be mindful about how you portray yourself on social media, as it is a public action,” says Eddie Flaherty, from the Moravian College admissions team. “You wouldn’t scream the F-bomb in public, so why do it on Twitter?” Flaherty and his colleagues say that red flags include “inappropriate language or behavior, slanderous language directed toward other schools or individuals and posting financial aid information publicly.” Basically, if you seem more like an Internet troll than a Rhodes Scholar, that might hurt you.

Some universities also track applicant interest by looking at digital clues.

– Amber styles

Social Media Can Boost Your Application

The flipside is that a polished digital imprint can help bolster your application. Amber Styles, who was accepted to her program of choice at George Mason University, suggests getting ahead of the curve by thoughtfully establishing a social media presence that displays the image of yourself you want colleges to see. And Styles should know — she served as co-chair of social media safety for a community organization focused on empowering women and girls.

Styles advises sharing articles and updates on public profiles that pertain to your area of interest. “This demonstrates that you are already working to become knowledgeable in the field you plan to major in. Bonus points if you add your own insights and thoughts to the post or start a blog covering the topic,” she says.

Don’t be afraid to include photos and other media related to projects you are proud of. “These assets enhance the résumé of a proactive student and allow admissions officers to better understand what a student is passionate about,” Styles says.

School Spirit Counts

To help yourself stand out more, you can use social media to demonstrate your interest in particular programs. “Some universities also track applicant interest by looking at digital clues,” Styles says. These can include registering to attend an open house, taking a virtual tour, following the institution’s social media accounts or downloading the university’s apps. These actions, she explains, “serve as signals to an enrollment manager that a prospective student is truly interested in attending their school.”

Flaherty agrees. He and his colleagues say that shout-outs are always appreciated, and “photos of on-campus events really bolster a student’s likelihood to draw our attention.”

Admissions- Specific Social Media

In addition to “traditional” social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Flaherty and his crew encourage the use of ZeeMee, which is a social media platform “specifically designed for college applicants to share their story with admissions offices.” Before creating your ZeeMee profile, it’s worth investigating if the schools on your list use the app. 

Beware of bad behavior even after you’ve been accepted. In June 2017, at least 10 incoming freshmen at Harvard had their acceptances rescinded when the university discovered their offensive posts in a private Facebook group chat. Even content from closed and seemingly private groups and messenger apps can be leaked. The moral of the story? Nothing online is ever private. Always keep that digital imprint clean — you never know who’s looking.