Can an inappropriate photo thoughtlessly posted to Instagram or an offensive Facebook status update keep your students from fulfilling their lifelong dream of becoming a doctor? According to a study, it definitely can…however unlikely. “This may become a standard way of evaluating applicants,” said Carl I. Schulman, MD, MSPH, PhD, lead study author and associate professor of surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. These finding confirm Kaplan’s own research, which we plan to revisit this summer as part of our annual survey of medical school admissions officers – you’ll see the results this fall. Below are some tips to share with your students about how to best manage their online personas – AKA: the unpolished part of their medical school application.
-Check your digital trail regularly and keep it clean. Search yourself on Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines, while not logged in as yourself , and clean up anything that doesn’t put you in a positive light. You may be surprised by what comes up. If that means asking a friend or an acquaintance to take something down that they posted about you, do it.
-Get to know your privacy settings. When you set up an account with any social media channel, assume that the default setting is for anything you post to be completely public. It is up to you to change your profile settings. (Note: Social media sites’ privacy settings change on a relatively frequent basis, so always make sure to know what’s current.)
-Only share with people you know and trust. The cool guy/girl you met once at a party? Your brother’s teammate who you have a crush on? The friend of a friend who reportedly has a connection to Rihanna? They may be interesting to have in your network – but would you actually hand them a journal with your private thoughts? Unless you know they’d be willing to put themselves on the line for you, there’s no reason anyone beyond your closest friends and family would feel the need to keep your information private – and you have no idea who they’re connected or related to. So you can either make sure people you don’t know well don’t have access to your personal posts – or don’t connect with them at all. (Your third option is to never post anything you wouldn’t want a medical admissions officer or future employer to see.)
-Keep your social media profile photos appropriate. Even if you set your privacy settings so you’re searchable but only friends can see your posts and pictures, your name and profile photo are still visible. If so, make sure your photo is what you want to present if someone pulls up your profile.
-Most importantly: Think before you Tweet (or post). You don’t have to share everything with everyone. After all your hard work, the last thing you want to keep you out of medical school is an offensive Facebook status update, Instagram photo or tweet.
But on the flip slide, social media can positively impact your admissions chances. Medical schools love talented, passionate students who have diverse interests, so showing them what you excel at outside a laboratory may improve your chances of getting in. Here are some examples:
-Are you a talented artist? If so, why not create a website where you can show off your portfolio of work? That’s how a site like Pinterest, for example, can be helpful. Be sure to include the link in your application.
-Do you love to write short stories and poems? Why not create a blog where you can showcase your most inspiring work?
-Would you be another Mozart or pop star if not for your love of medicine? Upload videos and recording to YouTube or your page hosted another site to showcase your talent.
-A word of caution: Whatever you are posting, make sure it’s accurate and honest. While it’s fine to do a little “humble bragging” about your accomplishments, don’t lie or embellish them.
The last thing we’d say is that although social media is the wildcard in the medical school admissions process, the most important admissions factors continue to be the traditional factors: MCAT score, GPA, letters or recommendation and personal statement.