Governments, businesses, and prospective employers have long been using online data for a variety of purposes. Increasingly, college admissions officers supplement the polished applications and essays received from applicants with a look at the applicant’s online persona.

A 2012 survey by Kaplan polled 350 admissions officers of top tier colleges and universities and found that 27 percent admitted to executing on-line searches for an applicant—the most common tool being Google search—and that 35 percent of these online searches negatively impacted the student’s application. It is important to note that no experienced admissions officer (or HR manager) will tell you that the reason you were rejected was because of online images of you smoking what appears to be marijuana or conducting yourself in any compromising manner. While this may be an ethically and legally gray area, it is, however, smart to assume that if you have posted these pictures, a diligent search will find them at the time when they can do the most damage.

Keep in mind that with online social networks, your privacy not only is dependent on your privacy setting but also on the privacy settings of your Facebook friends, for example. Your “friends” may innocently or deliberately post compromising pictures of you—some you may not even be aware were taken. Therefore, it is best that students carefully manage their online presence. Consider the following tips to protect yourself:

  1. Ask yourself if you would be comfortable with a particular post or photo
    showing up on the front page of the local newspaper or with your mother seeing it.
  2. Use a variety of search engines to discover what information about you is online.
  3. Never share your password—and if you do, change it immediately.
  4. Remember that the Internet is a public electronic highway. Searches become
    part of our online presence and can be used by savvy marketers or college recruiters.

Technology, of course, also can be used to your advantage. For example, Facebook, LinkedIn, personal web-sites, blogs, or video clips provide excellent mediums to share your accomplishments, talents, athletic abilities, or service projects, provided it is done in a tasteful, modest manner. Also, follow the Facebook pages or Twitter accounts of colleges or athletic teams of interest to stay current.

On the other side of the admissions spectrum, admissions offices are using social media to reach out and sometimes communicate with students. Additionally, according to a June 2013 Houston Chronicle article, online data may be mined to recruit targeted students who are likely to be good fits or who would improve a college’s yield.

Clearly, rapidly changing technology is a powerful tool that provides many advantages as well as potentially harmful disadvantages. It is important to stay current, to be continually vigilant and to remember, or better yet, assume that others will be aware of your online persona and character.

P. Carol Jones is the author of “Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able.” Visit www.towardcollegesuccess.com to read excerpts and to follow her blog. Ferah Aziz is a college coach with launchphase2. Visit www. launchphase2.com/ or call 720-340-8111 to learn more about coaching for college bound students, and success coaching for college students.