Do Colleges Look at Social Media?

Curious about whether colleges peek into the social media accounts of prospective students and how they go about it? Let’s kick off with a cautionary tale. In a widely publicized incident that garnered international attention, Harvard University revoked admission offers from over ten students who had posted offensive, sexually explicit, and racist memes within a private Facebook group. This chat forum, where the offensive content surfaced, was an offshoot of another online Facebook page for students admitted to the University’s Class of 2021.

At one juncture, the group, which underwent several name changes, was titled “Offensive memes for horny bourgeois teens.” One might assume that students who had successfully navigated the rigorous Harvard admissions process and secured acceptance from a pool of candidates boasting near-perfect SAT scores and impeccable high school transcripts would exercise caution around anything posing such an obvious risk. However, astonishingly, a cohort of Harvard admittees engaged in similar behavior the prior year, exchanging similarly themed messages via an app called GroupMe, yet managed to evade disciplinary action.

If prospective Harvard students can exhibit such recklessness online, imagine the pitfalls awaiting the average college-bound student. It’s a chilling thought, isn’t it? But fear not! By following our straightforward advice, you or your teen needn’t fret about such concerns.

Also read Three Considerations before applying Early Decision

Do colleges look at social media?

The scrutiny of social media by college admissions officers is a topic that sparks debate and raises ethical questions. While many officers refrain from delving into students’ online lives, citing privacy concerns, others may feel compelled to do so due to the sheer volume of applications they receive.

Over the past fifteen years, there has been a notable increase in the trend of online vetting. In 2008, only a small fraction of admissions officers bothered to check applicants’ social media profiles. However, by 2020, this figure had risen to 36%. Additionally, a significant number of officers admitted to conducting Google searches on applicants to uncover any relevant information, whether positive or negative. Shockingly, a staggering 58% of surveyed officers reported encountering content that negatively impacted their perception of applicants. Furthermore, a majority of admissions officers, 65%, believed that social media should be considered “fair game” during the application process, suggesting that this trend may continue to gain momentum in the future.

How do colleges uncover your social media presence?

Colleges have various avenues for discovering your social media presence, reflecting the pervasive nature of digital life today. For instance, under immigration laws enacted by the Trump administration, U.S. immigration officials have the authority to scrutinize the social media accounts of visiting foreigners dating back five years. While the intention behind this measure is to identify potential security threats, it underscores the reality that digital privacy is increasingly elusive.

Moreover, colleges can uncover your online footprint much like anyone else. In a world where cyberstalking is commonplace, admissions officers may stumble upon your social media profiles while conducting routine searches. Whether it’s a crush, an old flame, or even a quirky teacher with a musical past, no one is immune to the temptation of digital exploration.

Additionally, colleges may come across your social media activity through direct engagement. Following and interacting with official admissions accounts on platforms like Instagram can put your profile on their radar. A simple like or comment on a post may prompt admissions officers to take a closer look at your online persona.

In essence, the ways in which colleges find your social media presence reflect the interconnectedness of digital platforms and the increasingly blurred boundaries of privacy in the digital age.

Social Media Tip #1: Assess Your Digital Footprint

To gain insight into what admissions officers might uncover, it’s time to turn your online sleuthing skills inward—onto yourself. Begin by Googling your own name and see what surfaces. Delve into the depths of long-forgotten platforms like and revisit the posts your 9th-grade self might have made. Take a deep dive into your Facebook history—were there any questionable group photos you were tagged in but have since forgotten?

You don’t need to abandon your online presence entirely; rather, ensure that nothing in cyberspace could tarnish your first impression with admissions officers. This is especially critical if you actively engage with colleges online or highlight your social media presence in your application, such as referencing a popular YouTube channel.

For those who maintain social media accounts, it’s crucial to be mindful of the content you share. While some admissions officers may overlook your spring break antics, others may view them unfavorably. Whether or not colleges scrutinize your online life, it’s simply not worth risking your admission prospects for the sake of maintaining a provocative Instagram feed.

As a general rule, steer clear of content related to drugs, alcohol, sex, or explicit language. Avoid engaging in racism, violence, bullying, or hate speech. Additionally, refrain from flaunting wealth, as it may come across as entitled—posting photos of extravagant gifts or possessions, for example.

Social Media Tip #2: Review Your Tags

After evaluating your digital presence, take another step by reviewing what you’ve been tagged in or have followed. Tags may also be considered during social media screenings. If you come across anything concerning, simply remove likes, follows, or tags as needed.

Social Media Tip #3: Leverage Social Media to Your Advantage

Contrary to popular belief, social media can be a valuable asset in the college admissions process. Many colleges now actively engage with prospective students on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Interacting with schools via social media demonstrates your genuine interest in their institution. Following a school is an excellent way to express virtual interest, supplementing traditional campus visits. Additionally, it provides insights into the school’s culture and values, aiding in your assessment of fit and potentially influencing your college essays.

Furthermore, platforms like LinkedIn and ZeeMee cater specifically to professional networking and college admissions. If you maintain profiles on these sites, ensure they are up-to-date, especially if a college emphasizes the use of ZeeMee or if you include a profile link in your application.

Ultimately, maintaining an authentic, positive online presence is key. There’s no need to curate an overly polished feed or stray from being yourself. Whether you’re a theater enthusiast sharing dance reels on TikTok, a soccer player highlighting game highlights, an artist showcasing your work on Instagram, or a civic-minded individual raising awareness for social issues, authenticity shines through and can positively impact your application.

Also see Colleges that are probably better than Harvard


The intersection of social media and college admissions underscores the importance of managing one’s digital footprint with care. As social media becomes increasingly integrated into the admissions process, students must strike a balance between authenticity and discretion. By evaluating and curating their online presence thoughtfully, applicants can present themselves in the best possible light while demonstrating genuine interest in their chosen institutions. Leveraging social media strategically and responsibly can enhance the admissions journey, offering insights into campus culture and values. Ultimately, by embracing these principles, students can navigate the college admissions process with confidence and integrity, ensuring that their digital footprint reflects their true selves while aligning with the expectations of admissions committees.