Substance Use Posts on Social Media Can Impact Your College Experience

Annie Kochneva is a Search Marketing Manager at Saint Jude Retreat, an alternative to traditional drug and alcohol treatment centers and rehabs. Saint Jude Retreats provides a program for people with substance use problems that concentrates on self-directed positive and permanent change. Through the program, individuals with substance use problems are offered the opportunity to self-evaluate and explore avenues for life enhancement and happiness.

Social media has made it easier than ever to document and share details of our everyday lives. If you’re a high school or college student, it probably plays a big role in yours. Your generation is the first to grow up with such a casual and accessible way to communicate with the world, but if you get too comfortable with this public stage, you might forget that your audience is bigger than you thought. If you or your friends document your substance use in social media, you could be seriously jeopardizing your academic and career future, even if you have or want to change your substance use habit.
Social media is brand new territory
Today’s teens definitely aren’t the first to experiment with drugs or alcohol, but thanks to social media, your youthful indiscretions are documented in unprecedented, far reaching, and often permanent ways. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram didn’t even exist when your parents were in school, but now selfies and hashtags are just as commonplace as desks and lockers. Their impact extends far beyond your peer group, though.
People everywhere are paying closer attention to this oversharing explosion and wondering about its impact, now and for the future. One change is already evident: more colleges and workplaces now incorporate public social media profiles into their background checks and admission decisions.
Admissions officers can look at your profiles
Not all colleges pay attention to what applicants are tweeting, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially since the practice is rising. According to the latest annual Kaplan Prep survey, 26 percent of all college admissions officers reported that they visited social media pages to learn more about applicants in 2012. A year later, that number jumped to 31 percent. By 2014, it was 35 percent. Among those who did consult social media, more than half discovered something that hurt an applicant’s chances.
Even if a student is admitted to a college after a social media screening, it doesn’t mean their posts didn’t affect their academic careers. Admissions officers are, by necessity, always in close contact with faculty and administrators. If you’re accepted after posting selfies with vodka bottles or using 420 hashtags, your professors may not grant you the same clean slate that other students get.
Privacy settings don’t always protect you
In most cases, social media snooping is only legal if the posts are public. However, even if you’re savvy enough to protect your posts from public view or use a different name, don’t assume you can post whatever you want. University staff may not be able to search for your name and immediately find your pictures or posts, but there are other ways to access your social media page, and most of them involve the “friends” and “followers” who do have access. Your protections under the law are largely non-existent so it is better to be cautious than risk your dream admission.
For example, if you’re still in high school and you “friend” someone who attends your dream college, you should assume everyone at that school has access to your posts, as well as the posts your friends tag you in. You can’t control whether they remember to sign off in the library, share beyond your control, and if your posts are accessible by “friends of friends”, the risks continue to grow.
Social Media as a Way to Brand Yourself
Thinking of your social posts as a way of branding yourself can help to put this into perspective. Colleges that are taking notice of social media accounts will take note of your engagement with them—negative or positive—and the overall “feel” of your account as reflecting the type of person you are and if you’re a good fit for their community.
You may have been advised to “sanitize” your social media accounts ahead of any scrutiny by college officials or have multiple accounts with different privacy levels. College admissions officers feel some students are becoming more aware of the need to consider before posting.
If you think of yourself as a brand and that every social media post should be congruent with who you are as a person, now and for the long term, you may avoid posting something you would feel uncomfortable going out to the general public. Be genuine and enjoy your college admissions experience with posts that reflect you and your view of the world.

Singer, Natasha. Toning Down the Tweets Just in Case Colleges Pry. New York Times. Retrieved 3/27/2015 from:

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