5 must-know college admissions tips, according to a branding expert

While grades, test scores, and essays still hold significant weight, college admissions are shifting towards a more holistic approach. To rise to the top of the application pile, it’s more important than ever for teens to answer the million-dollar question, “Why Choose You?” As the author of Brand Up: The Ultimate Playbook for College & Career Success in the Digital World, here are five college admissions tips I recommend to guide parents and their teens on this exciting journey.

5 steps to take with your teen on the path to college acceptance

1. Shine online

With most admission officers looking at social media as part of the application process, the first step for teens is to clean up their social media by removing inappropriate content. Encourage teens to focus on platforms that align with their interests, like Instagram for artists or YouTube for broadcasters. And my platform of choice for college-bound students: LinkedIn. The career-focused social media platform is an essential for teens to shape their narrative, build a professional network, and set the stage for their career. Students should highlight their academic achievements, leadership roles, volunteerism, and character. A professional headshot and favorite quote can enhance their profile.

2. Use social media to your advantage

Rather than hiding online (as many teens tend to do), teens should embrace the power of social media to make a lasting impression. Teens should follow their dream college accounts and connect with college admissions officers, professors, department heads and alumni. Liking, sharing and commenting on content demonstrates their interest in the institutions. Encourage your teen to share college-centric content about their college journey (e.g., campus tours). Remind them to apply the PURE (Positive, Unbiased, Respectful and Ethical) test before posting.

3. Stand out and be visible 

The key to college admissions success is simple: Get noticed! To set yourself apart in a competitive applicant pool, showcase unconventional hobbies, personal growth, unique experiences and cultural heritage through online portfolios, websites, videos or blogs. Aspiring musicians can upload concert recitals to YouTube, whereas English majors can create a blog focusing on literature or share journalism clips on Contently. Athletes can share achievements, such as winning a regional championship, through videos on Instagram. Even an email signature line is a valuable piece of real estate to highlight achievements.

4. Mind your communication

Managing online reputations is key. One hiccup, whether an awkward photo or inappropriate post, can have lasting consequences. Privacy is limited and messages can be easily screenshot and shared without consent. Emphasize the importance of responsible online behavior beyond college acceptance. Consider Harvard’s withdrawal of 10 admission offers in 2017 due to offensive social media posts in a seemingly “private” Facebook chat. With Harvard’s 3.19% acceptance rate, this demonstrates smart kids are not always smart on social media.

5. Authenticity counts

Your teen needs to avoid getting caught up with presenting a flawless image. Teens should prioritize being genuine rather than fitting into a predetermined mold. Colleges want to know the “real you,” which means showcasing their strengths but also vulnerabilities, challenges, and aspirations. Sharing experiences that have shaped them allows colleges to see the richness of their character, unique perspectives, and the qualities that set them apart.

Here’s to your teen’s path to college readiness and an extraordinary future!