“Pack it in, pack it out” is a solid rule of the outdoor hiking community. However, an experienced hiker will willingly tell you that this mantra does not necessarily mean that you absolutely cannot leave any signs of your presence outdoors; instead, he will let you know that this means that you should not leave anything behind that could potentially damage the natural beauty of your surroundings. In other words, while it’s generally ok to leave behind your footprints on a muddy path or to gently clean off trail markers to make them clearer for future hikers to find, it is not ok to leave behind your empty trail mix wrappers. The same general principle can be readily applied to the idea of cleaning up your digital footprint online.

Specifically speaking, premed students going through the medical school application process may find themselves wondering whether or not there is any information floating around online that could be detrimental to their chances of getting accepted. Whether it’s the picture of you drunk at your best friend’s bachelorette party or some shot of you doing something of questionable wisdom from way back in high school, the thought of a medical school admissions officer stumbling upon (or perhaps even intentionally hunting down) such unflattering images of you could be terrifying. Fortunately (at least in this respect), most medical schools admissions committees are too busy weeding through the thousands of primary and secondary applications they receive each cycle to spend the time to research you as an individual candidate too closely.

However, at the same time, it is never an unwise decision to choose to clean up or at least limit others’ access to the information about you that can be garnered online. While cleaning up this information might not seem like an important priority during your undergrad years, having a clean digital footprint certainly won’t hurt you in the long run either. Residency programs and other future employers further down the line are very likely to be interested in what kind of doctor they are hiring in to join their hospital or clinic.

As a whole, the simplest (and often easiest) way to start to tidy up your digital footprint is to clean up your social media image. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress, Instagram…anywhere that you have allowed information published about yourself to be made relatively public is basically a portal through which anyone can peek into your private life. Take the time to remove any questionable material that you yourself have posted, and be active in “un-tagging” yourself from any such images or statements that someone else may have made regarding you. If possible, ask such parties to please refrain from posting any similar material involving you in the future. Additionally, make it a habit to do thorough and regular checks on the security settings on all of your accounts. Limiting outside access to information about you is a key way to help your digital footprint at least appear clean.

Finally, the advice outlined in this article is definitely valuable for removing your digital footprint outside of the social media world. Although these precautions are arguably more relevant for personal safety measures more so than specifically for medical school applicants, they are still excellent tips for ensuring your safety both as you apply to and attend (and graduate from) medical school.

As a whole, just as it is better for hikers to only leave behind positive things (if they must leave behind anything at all), medical school applicants would be wise to only leave a positive portrayal of themselves available for inquiring eyes online. Or, in other words, “Better safe than sorry” is definitely a good rule of thumb to be applied here.