College acceptance letters will soon be distributed to eager prospective students during the coming months. Although some students will get into their dream schools, experts worry that others -- who will belong to a group that is disproportionately African-American -- may not due to what they post about themselves online and on social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
Americas Marketing Senior Manager Maeve Naughton, who has more a decade of experience helping companies with their online security operations, told theGrio that kids often forget how big and unforgiving the Internet can be.
"It is kind of scary how fast things can spread and how long they last on the Internet," Naughton said. "Kids think it is great place to post something crazy up there, but they forget that once it's up there, it's difficult to remove."
Although African-American youth are not necessarily building worse reputations through social media than other ethnicities, experts say their higher engagement could cause them to make more mistakes that impact their chances of getting into college.
According to the 2011 NIelsen Social Media Report, African-Americans engage in social media more than any other ethnicity. In fact, the data revealed that they are 30 percent more likely to visit Twitter compared to other races.
These results align with an extensive report called Children, Media, and Race from the Center of Media and Human Development at Northwestern University. The report focuses on various uses of media, and the time spent on media use among different ethnic groups. Researchers found that African-American children eight to eighteen-years-old spend more time on social networking sites than whites. Additionally, they show a higher percentage of blog ownership than other races.
The statistics are important as they point to a broader notion that adolescents, especially African-Americans, have to be mindful about the personal content that college admissions officers could find online months or years after they publish it.
According to a New York-based division of the test preparation company," Kaplan Inc":http://www.kaplan.com/contact-us
., the number of college admissions officials using Facebook and other social-networking sites to investigate applicants has quadrupled over the past year.
In fact, in a Kaplan 2011 survey, 24 percent of admissions officers from the top 500 colleges and universities said that they reviewed online content about their applicants, while 20 percent went further and Googled them.
In addition, 12 percent of the admission officers who investigated applicants' personal information on the web reported finding evidence of underage drinking, plagiarism in essays, and crudeness in blogs that unfavorably impacted a prospective student's chance of admission.
Jeff Livingston, the senior vice president of the College and Career Readiness Learning Solutions Center for the McGraw-Hill School Education Group, also emphasized that students applying to college should be extra-cautious about what they post via social media. As an adviser to students applying to college, Livingston instructs his pupils to represent themselves well -- both online and in their applications.
"Students have to assume that anything that they put online is accessible by college admission officers, so they shouldn't put anything online that they would not want to discuss with an admissions officer," he said.
To make the best impression, students should consider hiding any pictures or friends that could be questionable, according to Livingston.
"If you know any of your friends are prone to acting crazy online, then block them," he said. "You don't have to ruin a friendship, but you can protect your image by being selective."
Livingston added that he believes that students can take a proactive approach with social media by using it to build their reputation and their brand. It is an opportunity for students to say what's important to them and personalize their story.
"Some bright students use their social media presence to reinforce their story in the process," he told theGrio. "One student I worked with had access to governmental situations in various countries, so she wrote essays about her interactions with government officials. On her Twitter profile she also tweeted comments about the places she visited."
Furthermore, he suggested that African-American prospective students could amplify their connection to their cultural identity online and in their college application.
"If you are showing yourself as a person interested in African-American life on campus, then it should be reflected in your online social life as well," he said. "This will strengthen your application since it aligns with your online content."
In addition to adolescents being more cautious online, experts agreed that parents could also get more involved in guiding their children's social media usage.
"Parents should establish and nurture open, honest dialogue with their kids," Dr. Fran Walfish, who is a psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent said. "They should tell their kids in advance what they can expect from bad online behavior. This way, there are no surprises. They will learn accountability and will be one step ahead of potential trouble."
Additionally, Dr. Walfish suggested that parents should have regular conversations with their kids about what they are doing online.
Naughton agreed, saying: "Too much responsibility has been placed on the teachers to raise children, so parents need to take a more active role. Kids also need to take an active role in realizing what they are doing and why."