(MCT) — So you’re a rising college freshman. You’ve got four (possibly more) years of experiences ahead of you that will shape who you are socially and professionally. How can you get ahead in both those areas without too much stress?
Through social media, of course. Between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and other prominent networking sites, social media can be a wonderful tool for a freshman looking to establish him or herself in a college bubble.
“The strength of social media is in its ability to network and collaborate,” said Sabrina Kramer, assistant director at the University of Maryland’s Center for Teaching Excellence. “Networking for jobs and other opportunities has always been important —just now you can reach more people much more easily.”
Kramer suggested that students start building an online professional portfolio early.
“Employers want to see evidence of a person’s ability to think, critically analyze and write effectively,” she said. “Building a portfolio, updating it and curating it with good examples of your work also shows good organizational skills and that you care about your work.”
Thomas Frank, Iowa State University senior, is the founder of College Info Geek, a resource for making college a “remarkable experience.” Social media played a huge part in his college life.
“Social media was the catalyst for my first internship,” Frank said. “Had I not been using Twitter as a freshman and following my school’s new account, I would have never found out about the leadership conference Principal was running. Through that I gained dozens of contacts, a Fortune 500 internship and eventually a $5,000 scholarship.”
As important as the professional advantages here are, don’t forget the “social” aspect of social media.
“The advantages of social media came about before freshman year even started,” said Madeline Monaco, a sophomore at Elon University, in Elon, N.C. “I found my roommate on Facebook, where we talked and decided to room with each other. By looking at pages she had liked and other things in her ‘About Me’ section, I was able to connect with a really great girl and develop a really great relationship with her.”
Monaco also said that Facebook and Twitter are slowly becoming her primary news outlets.
“I found out about Whitney Houston’s death from a friend’s post on another’s wall,” she said.
Social media also has entered the classroom. Sites like StudyBlue allow students to share study material on just about every subject imaginable in one easily accessible place. Some professors also incorporate social media into their lesson plans.
“In one class, students were able to talk with the author of the book that they were reading via a blog,” Kramer said. “In a talk I gave, we were able to interact via Twitter with the speaker in a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk that I was highlighting in my talk.”
Students can also create wikis or Google Docs to help each other study, review and edit papers, or even ask a professor questions the night before a test.
If you’re a freshmen not making the most out of social media, you’re probably going to fall behind.
“I think that being able to have updates from your friends and family on a constant basis is integral to what most people expect at this point,” Kramer said. “I think it allows for a richer experience and the ability to connect outside of campus. The art of networking is still as or more important in the era of social media as compared to before.”
MIND YOUR UPDATES, EMPLOYERS ARE WATCHING
Try to find University of Colorado Boulder graduate Erin Moriarty on Facebook. No luck? That’s exactly what Moriarty is hoping will happen.
“Once I started applying for jobs, (there was) the idea of going through my entire Facebook profile and making sure I never said a cross thing or posted something potentially offensive,” she said. “I went so far as to change my name to Yossarian Caulfield (a combination of the main characters from “Catch 22” and “Catcher in the Rye”).”
She now goes by Erin Broiarty, a name coined by friends that only they would know to search for on Facebook. It’s a strategy that is being used more and more by college students to hide potentially embarrassing parts of their social media lives from employers.
College students are slowly beginning to learn that posts on Facebook, Twitter, personal blogs and other social networking sites can be used against them in their professional lives.
Now, it’s all too easy to reveal your thoughts and feelings to the entire Internet at the click of a button. College students realize that the photo of them holding a red plastic cup and looking sloppy might be the difference between getting a job or internship and rejection.
“For me, social media is both a personal and professional tool,” said Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne junior Laura Rosenbaum. “If it sounds like something I wouldn’t want my parents to know about or something I’d get in trouble for from my (employer), I don’t post it.”
Peter VanRysdam, chief marketing officer for 352 Media Group, which specializes in web development and digital marketing, said that when his employees do something questionable over social media, his company handles it on a case-by-case basis.
“We don’t have any specific rules in place, but we do educate employees about using common sense when making posts,” he said. “We just ask they consider the ramifications, and as a result, we’ve never had a big issue.”
VanRysdam mentioned an employee who, after she was fired, posted unflattering comments about 352. Though she was out of the company’s control at that point, they still had leverage over her severance package and used that to get her to take down the posts.
Moral of that story: employers can and will see everything you post online.
“I don’t think students fully grasp the impact of what they post,” VanRysdam said. “Actually, I think they just don’t grasp how to use Facebook’s security settings. It amazes me what some people keep public, especially as they get closer to graduation. It’s a buyer’s market when it comes to hiring, so everything is fair game!”
If you’re a college student worried about your personal life ruining your professional one, either think before you post or make sure you’re keeping everything you post as private as possible. Quick warning though: if you’re using Moriarty’s strategy, make sure people know your real name.
“My name has changed so many times and for so long that at my internship last summer, my first paycheck was made out to Erin Broiarty,” she said.
– Joshua Axelrod McClatchy-Tribune (MCT Campus)