Q: My daughter, a high school senior, is a heavy social media user. She has a long Facebook history, some of which is not so flattering. She's applying to colleges, and her counselor suggested that she clean up immature postings because colleges check them. Is that true? If so, should we pay a service to scrub her online footprint? She's got good grades and hopes for a scholarship. We don't want to hurt her chances.
A: Yes, college admission officers may go online to check out what their applicants are posting on social media, says Rob Franek, a Princeton Review college admissions expert.
The New York Times recently reported findings from a Kaplan Test Prep survey that indicated "30 percent of the admissions officers said they had discovered information online that had negatively affected an applicant's prospects."
This is a sobering statistic for students with active social media accounts. "A student could have earned great SAT scores, gotten good grades and submitted stellar essays, but all of that hard work may be negated if he or she has an offensive, immature or inappropriate online presence," says Franek, author of "The Best 378 Colleges, 2014 Edition" (Random House/The Princeton Review, 2013).
If your daughter has a less-than-ideal online presence, don't panic, but do clean up those unflattering past posts. "Hiring a professional to do that may be a necessity if you or your daughter don't know how to manage this properly or don't have the time," Franek advises. "But taking steps to correct this will be very important and give each of you a little peace of mind."
Franek suggests ways you and your daughter can do damage control: First, your daughter should put her privacy settings on the highest level of security. Make sure that she does not come up on searches by checking on a different browser after updating the settings.
Block apps on Facebook so that her name isn't associated with those either. "This may frustrate some teens who think it will limit their ability to interact with friends online, but ultimately it will be worth it," says Franek.
"A friend may know that your daughter's quirky tweet or photo was intended as a joke, but the person deciding whether to admit her to her dream school may not. Make all accounts private. It'll keep the strangers out. One can still control who one connects with online when one's privacy settings are on high."
Once your daughter has made all her accounts private (including Instagram), have her go through each account and delete all posts that represent her less-than-proudest moments. There may be posts that she has completely forgotten about, or that appear inappropriate when taken out of context.
Remind your daughter to be responsible when posting new items. "After college, when job searching, prospective employers may check her online profile as well," says Franek. "When it comes to social media posts, it's best to err on the side of being conservative and always to remember to put one's best 'selfie' forward."
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)