Your test scores, grade point average, and everything else you enter into AMCAS aren’t the only factor medical school admission committees are taking into consideration when it comes to the admission process.
A 2013 survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep found that not only have some medical school admissions officers admitted to “Googling” an applicant to learn more about them, 42% of them said they even discovered something online about an applicant that negatively impacted their application.
Nowadays, what you do online may be just as important as what you do offline. If you get a little nervous just thinking about what members of a medical school admission committee would say if they saw photos you’ve posted to Facebook or what you’re calling yourself on Twitter, it may be time for you to do some cleaning.
A medical school is trying to make a decision about who it’s going to choose to be a part of its next class of future physicians. It is important that these schools try to find out as much as they can about prospective students. Think of it as a “social media” background check. And while there are some ethical concerns surrounding the practice (i.e. discriminatory factors that may result in certain biases), the majority of medical schools do not have official guidelines or policies when it comes to visiting applicants’ social networking pages and factoring what they find into the admissions process. So, basically, if you’re applying to medical school, there’s a great chance that admissions officers are going to check out your social media persona. And while you may not be worried about the AAMC-facilitated criminal background check, you may have to worry about what a search of your social media accounts may reveal. And while you may not think too much of what a search of your social media persona may unearth, the truth is that it may very well lead to a bad ending: losing the chance to pursue your dream of becoming a doctor.
The good news is that cleaning up your social media profiles is easier than you think. In fact, you can even use this opportunity to make your Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Instagram photos work in your advantage but thinking of them as extensions of your medical school application. How awesome would it be if a medical school admissions officer did in fact decide to do a little research on you and through your social media accounts learned that you are indeed as perfect as your AMCAS application made you look? Here are a few tips to help you avoid social media scrutiny from admissions officers at your dream medical school:
You’ve probably done it just for fun, and aside from the obvious kick you may get out of just doing it, Googling yourself is the first thing you’ll want to do when it comes to cleaning up your online presence. If you think about it, how easy would it be for an admissions officer to simply type your name into the strangely inviting search box and hit the ‘Enter’ button? This would be the quickest way for an admissions committee member to determine whether or not it would be “worth it” to dig further.
Since it is probably the social media site you will post the most personal information about yourself, it should be your next stop when cleaning up your online presence before applying to medical school.
First things first – view your public self. You can do this by logging out of Facebook completely and then searching for yourself by name. It may be very easy to find you by name even if you do not use your name as your account ID. Try going to www.facebook.com/srch.php, type in your name, and see what comes up. See what is visible; if you’re name is popular, you’ll most likely get many results and if not, your profile may be easier to find than you realize. Next, log back into Facebook and use the “View As” tool to see what your timeline looks like to other people. Facebook gives the following instructions for doing this: 1.) Go to your Timeline and click 2.) Click View As… in the dropdown menu. 3.) You’ll see what your Timeline looks to the public. Next, check your privacy settings. Facebook changes the rules on their privacy settings quite often, you’ll want to do this again even if you think your account is airtight. Since all posts are set to Public by default, make sure your “Who can see your future posts?” setting is set to either Friends, Only Me, or Custom. The smartest choice here is Friends, but you should create a Custom list if you have already accepted friend request from both personal and professional acquaintances. Make this change not only for future posts but for your past posts. To do this, go to privacy settings and choose “Limit the Audience for Old Posts on Your Timeline.”
Now that you have straightened out your privacy settings and see what others see on your profile, it is time to do away with any results you don’t like. You may not have the opportunity to provide an explanation for the unflattering posts, photos, comments in your medical school interview. Aside from deleting posts that could possibly compromise your application in any way, you also have the option of changing the visibility of individual posts. Before applying to medical school, it is important to be sure that your private posts are actually private, the only public posts, photos, and comments are the ones that will not taint your prospective medical student persona, and moving forward, filter yourself for crying out loud, think before your hit the post button so you won’t have to double back come interview season.
It is very important to have a professional-sounding username on Twitter. Your username is basically your name on Twitter. It is your handle. Try to avoid inappropriate handles like @krazypremed876 or embarrassing names like @premedhottie22. If you are the slightest worried about what admissions officers may see, change your account to permission-only by checking the “Protect my tweets” option in your account settings. This will only allow those you pick to follow you and see your tweets. And if you don’t go the private route, you’re going to want keep everything 100% professional. Revisit what you’ve written in your bio to make sure that it thoughtfully presents who you are. If you’ve already started “going off” on Twitter, you need to double back to do some damage control. To clean your Twitter profile, click to see your tweets and delete any tweets that are inappropriate or embarrassing.
While it is probably very annoying to have to think about your medical school application when posting a photo to Instgram, but you must ask yourself “would I want a medical school admissions committee member seeing this picture?” An Instagram photo can create a long-lasting first impression on an individual potentially looking to accept your into their medical school. No medical school wants to see a photo of you sucking face with your significant other or the time you decided to try planking at the Museum of Natural History. So here’s what you do when it comes to Instagram, if you would not show it to your grandmother, delete it from your timeline and for the future, don’t post it!
This article was published in the May/June 2014 issue of PreMedLife Magazine.