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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Helping Prospective College Students Clean Up Their Acts Online

By Stacey Ross

Do you have or know a student who is applying for college in the near future? Well my, how times have changed! Findings from a Kaplan Test Prep survey that came out in 2013 indicate that a quarter of college admissions officers now include Google or Facebook reviews as part of the applicant evaluation process.

One eye-opening statistic from the survey: 35 percent reported discovering information that "negatively impacted  prospective students’ admissions chances," a three-fold increase from the prior year! Topics that were unfavorable to the prospective students included essay plagiarism, vulgarities in blogs, alcohol consumption in photos, illegal activities, and things that made the admission officers “wonder” (hmmm….).

Students have increased their digital footprints well beyond Facebook and Google to include Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, blogging sites, and many other platforms, so it’s fair to assume that many of them have some spring cleaning ahead of them. But not everything can be just wiped away! Here are a few tips and resources that prospective students might thank you for as they continue their transition to the adult world:

Start with a little makeover

The article 7-Day Digital Cleanse for College-Bound Kids shares a very concise seven-step plan for a little online makeover. Day one starts out with the advice to "think like an admissions officer." By days three and four, prospective students are "sanitizing" and "flushing" their feeds, and by day seven they are "starting a career-focused blog." This is a very good place to start out.

Safeguard your reputation

Ivana Taylor, publisher of DIY Marketers, says in Forbes.com that it’s totally possible to safeguard your online reputation on your own. “These days, employees are like small businesses,” she says. “In a lot of ways you are a brand and, like any other brand or product, you need to manage yourself.”

Her top tips for cleaning up an online reputation include setting up a Google alert page (a name alert), making sure the student's social media profile lists are complete, and creating online content that reflects upon the student in a positive manner.

Get professional assistance

If you can afford it, consider checking out a company like Reputation.com that works with individuals and business owners to control how they appear online. Reputation.com believes that "controlling your online reputation and private data is key to success in our digital world." They use a proprietary program called Defender®, which offers ways to suppress negative search results and replace them with accurate, positive content you can control.

Stay on it!

Whichever resources you use to help, maintaining a positive online presence is an ongoing task. Remove or at least try to bury any potentially damaging material, and caution students to watch what they say online and be selective about the photos they post.

Lastly, remind students to review their privacy settings. Hopefully, they can overcome any obstacles and get to the fun part of purposely posting content online that makes them shine and stand out from the crowd!

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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