Want a Scholarship? Better Clean Up Your Facebook and Twitter

Facebook and jobs
Facebook and jobs

Last week's headlines about the depressing job environment faced by your offspring -- and mine -- made for interesting dinner table conversation. I'm sure many of you, like me, discussed the merits of picking one of the science, math or technology majors that seem most likely to lead to secure employment. I'm similarly sure that some of you felt a little hypocritical, considering the BA in English (or philosophy or anthropology or sociology) you earned yourself.

To college students, I have this to say: Major in what you want to major in. But if it's something that doesn't offer a clear track into the workforce, it is your job to stuff your résumé to the gills with internships and other real experience that a future employer can use to justify bringing you onto the payroll.

Just remember that your résumé isn't the only thing job recruiters will have an eye on. They'll be looking at your Facebook page and Twitter feed as well.

However, here's where high schoolers and their parents need to pay attention: The folks who hand out scholarships are checking those social media sites too. So says Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of Fastweb.com. His site conducted a survey, in conjunction with the National Scholarship Providers Association, to parse out how social media can effect the scholarship awards process.

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Parents probably won't be surprised to hear that about a quarter of the scholarship providers he surveyed use web searches or social media sites to dig up information about applicants -- but their kids might be.

So it's time to help your kids do a clean sweep of their social media profiles, particularly because we are in the thick of it when it comes to scholarships -- many are awarded in May. And with educational debt at record highs -- and a recent report from the AP showing that 53% of fresh college grads are either unemployed or underemployed -- every little piece of financial help matters. Here are a few tips:

Know the red flags. Certain issues are going to be big stumbling blocks: provocative photographs, inappropriate remarks, illegal activities, discriminatory or insensitive language, negative comments. Kantrowitz says three-quarters of the scholarship providers were looking for these as signs that the student may not be a good fit for their organization. Remember to dig deep: With Facebook's recent switch to timeline profiles, users can quickly search a few years back with the click of a button.

Get rid of "text speak." We all know how kids talk these days (if you don't, check out this chronicle of a teen's texts for an evening from New York Magazine). Numbers instead of words, extra letters, lack of punctuation. "Scholarship providers want to see if the writing style in a real, natural setting is the same online as it was in their application. Otherwise, there are concerns that the student didn't write the essay, and that's one reason why someone might get rejected," says Kantrowitz.

Use Facebook as a mini resume. It's not necessary to list every single activity, but giving prominence to a few will work in your student's favor. Likewise, eliminate anything that reflects poorly on them -- right down to complaints about homework.

Correct your settings. If these accounts aren't set up to be private, now's the time to make that switch. Kantrowitz says it is
primarily the profiles of finalists who are reviewed, and providers may ask your teen to "like" their page or friend them on Facebook or Twitter. That's a good sign that the account will soon be under scrutiny.

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-- with Arielle O'Shea