For many high school students, the Internet is a virtual playground. A place to connect with friends, explore interests, and even study for school. About 1/3 of students report that they’re constantly connected to Facebook, and social media outlets including Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter capture more teen users every day. Some students are sharing large parts of their lives online, from their weekend plans to photos of their latest lunch. Right now, it may seem like you’re just chatting with friends, but what you’re really doing is laying the foundation for your online reputation. Much of the content you’re sharing online is available worldwide to anyone with an Internet connection, and thanks to tools like caching and the Wayback Machine, they are likely to be permanent, creating a digital trail that can last a lifetime. That means embarrassing high school moments or lapses in judgment are no longer forgotten with time: they’re preserved online for the world to access, quite possibly forever.

If the digital footprint you’re building now may last a lifetime, consider this: is it one you’ll be proud to share for the rest of your life? In more immediate terms, is your online persona one you’re willing to share with college admissions officers or future employers? If the answer is no, don’t panic. You’re not alone. Better yet, be prepared: there are steps you can take to build a positive online reputation while you’re still in high school.

Online Reputation Management for College Admissions

College admissions officers are increasingly turning to social media and online search to find the best candidates for admission. Though online reputation searches are typically reserved for students applying to competitive programs or scholarships, the percentage of admissions officers that investigate students is on the rise and online reputation may soon be a consideration for all students. And while traditional measures like your GPA, SAT, and personal essays will continue to be the most important factors, every student should also be concerned with building a strong online reputation.

What College Admissions Officers are Searching for Online

We know that college admissions officers are checking out students online. What are they looking for? For the most part, they just want to get to know you better and make sure that you have a good head on your shoulders. Most college admissions searches reveal positive information, but be careful: admissions offers are beginning to find more offensive posts, including photos of underage drinking and posts with vulgarity or illegal activities.

The Nuclear Option

If you’re embarrassed of what you have online, is it a good idea just to delete it all or go into hiding? The experts say no. Without an online persona, colleges are likely to wonder if you’re antisocial, or worse, why you might have something to hide. Actively engaging with your online persona allows you to be in charge of your online reputation. You also have the opportunity to connect with colleges and universities directly. Kill your online accounts, and you’ll miss out.

Scrubbing Your Online Reputation

The first step toward a positive online reputation for high school students is good scrubbing of all online content. Identify trouble spots like embarrassing photos, swear words, offensive comments, or references to illegal activities. Be ruthless, cutting anything that might be taken the wrong way. Don’t forget to ask for help: an extra set of eyes can help you identify items that you might not have considered troublesome.

Improving Your Online Reputation

Removing items that might damage your reputation is a big step toward a great online reputation, but it’s not enough. After you’ve taken away what college admissions officers don’t want to see, add what we know they would like to find. Share your interests, passions, and accomplishments, no matter how small. College admissions officers want to know that you’re an involved, dynamic student. Don’t be shy about sharing your successes and what makes you tick.

Making the Most of Online Reputation Sources

Where exactly are college admissions officers looking when they check out high school students? Social media and search engines are the obvious front-runners. But even forum posts, blog comments, articles, and old profiles are fair game. Make sure you’re not missing any important sources of information for your online reputation.

Online Reputation Management Tools for High School Students

Reputation management can be an overwhelming task that quickly gets disorganized. Fortunately, there are plenty of online tools available to help out. Online services including Google Alerts, KnowEm, and BrandYourself make it simple to monitor and improve your online reputation.

Networking for High School Students

With a positive online reputation, the next step for high school students is establishing a great network. LinkedIn recently opened its service up to teens, and using the service is a great opportunity to get started connecting with others on a professional level. Your classmates today can be your network tomorrow. Even better, LinkedIn has made it possible for you to connect with colleges through their service. Right now is best time for high school students to get started with online networking, and LinkedIn in particular.

Reputation Success Tips for High School Students

Feeling overwhelmed by online reputation management? Don’t be. Just follow a few simple rules, and you’ll have the gist of it. Consider what you’re sending out, be authentic, think before you post, remember to share positive information, and maintain your online reputation.

Your reputation is a valuable asset. It can open doors to colleges, scholarships, college networks, even a great career. What you do with it now can and will impact your future. Build a strong online reputation now, and you’ll have a head start for success.

Photo of Joseph Torrillo
About the Author

Born and proudly raised in Syracuse, NY, Joseph joined the team in 2008 as the Director of Reputation Management after earning his B.S. in Public Policy. He is now the Vice President of the department.

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