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Storytelling, Social Media and College Admissions

by Story2 Guest Author, on Sep 29, 2015 12:30:00 PM

Back in 1968 and right before the start of school, my parents decided to grant my wish by driving to Cooperstown to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Our road trip ritual always included stopping at the local Flying A gas station to fill the family Oldsmobile with a fresh tank of leaded gasoline and purchase a much needed paper map to navigate our trip.

With the price of gasoline approaching 35 cents a gallon, my father reminisced about the old days when he was able to take my mother out on a date to Coney Island for under a dollar (including subway, a movie and dinner at the original Nathan’s). My mother smiled and nodded her head in agreement as she reviewed her S&H Green Stamp collection, carefully tearing the stamps along their perforations and then pasting them in their proper spots.

Along the way, we would banter and joke, and hear stories of the heroics of Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle with the latest pop hits playing in the background on the local AM radio stations.

In the final stretch of the drive the conversation turned to me and took a more serious turn.  Although I was young, my father made it a point to remind me how important it was to do well in school. “A good education opened up so many doors and opportunities,” he explained, and added that I was expected to “study hard and get great grades.” This advice, first delivered to me a few days before the start of 3rd grade and a few miles from Cooperstown, was delivered annually ever after.

As a first generation American, a child of the depression and a World War II veteran, my father wanted me to get into a great college so I would have every opportunity to lead a great life. As I got older and wiser, I realized that he saw a college education as the great differentiator for making his son’s life easier and better than his own.

The importance of a great college education hasn’t changed over the years but the roads traveled and the conversations had along the way certainly have. With all the changes that have taken place throughout all aspects of our lives, why are we all so singularly focused on the importance of grades and test scores as the be all, end all for successful college admissions?

What Do Colleges Look For?

Not unlike many other elite universities, Duke University has posted the following statement to its admissions web page: “We do NOT require minimum scores on the SAT or ACT, GPA, or class rank for consideration or admission."

Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust has stated “We could fill our class twice over with valedictorians.” Faust's top tip to parents for raising a Harvard man or woman: “Make your children interesting!”

Colleges no longer need to rely solely on numbers to select students so they don’t simply take the students with the highest grades and test scores. Students are evaluated based on all of the attributes they bring to campus, including special talents, academic interests, and personal characteristics.

These important attributes are now easily searchable beyond the four corners of the college application. There was always so much more to a person than what could be squeezed onto a form template. The one common underlying factor with holistic admissions reviews is the ability to talk about ourselves in interesting and compelling terms. Engagement, debate, expression, passion, curiosity and underlying character are essential building blocks of our personal stories.

The college application essay is the most obvious place to tell this story but no longer does the essay hold a monopoly position. Storytelling is now a multi-channel, multi-dimensional platform. With social media sharing, blogs and digital communities, we are able to publish our inherent abilities, energies, ideas and attributes for the world to see. Credibility is established when your social media supports the main premises of your college application. This validation is called “Social Proof.”

Activities are only important by what you actually take away from your involvement. Did you actively engage, lead and collaborate or did you passively go through the motions just to add another activity to your college resume?

Take advantage of the rich storytelling power of social media to demonstrate your commitment to an activity, cause or aspiration. While the debate over the role social media plays in college admissions still rages on, using social media as a platform to positively document your accomplishments, activities and interests is beyond reproach.

What Should Students Do?

Get started by creating a LinkedIn profile as early as Grade 9. Learn how to use LinkedIn as a living, breathing resume-builder during high school. Receive teacher recommendations and post your activities in ways that speak to your leadership, emerging problem-solving and collaborative skills and lessons learned. After 3+ years when you’re ready to start applying to colleges, you will have a portfolio worthy of consideration by the best schools everywhere.

Using LinkedIn’s University Pages, you will be able to follow college communities and engage in their conversations. Your chances of impressing the right decision-makers at the right time will increase and these skills will also help for scholarships, internships and future employment. The same can be said for using Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and even Facebook in new and exciting ways to demonstrate your character, commitment and overall excellence.

Social media provides a channel for our voices to be broadcast everywhere. Now is the time to transform social media from a toy to a tool.

Alan Katzman, founder and CEO of Social Assurity, is a business and legal executive entrepreneur with a background in technology and software, compliance, human resources and investigations. Katzman has lectured extensively on the topic of social media optimization for students and published numerous pioneering articles on the topic. He is also the co-moderator of the popular #digcit bi-weekly Twitter chat and is a member of the Advisory Board of The Social Network Channel. He sees Social Assurity's mission as both educational and entrepreneurial.

Topics:college admission