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Grad School 101: How to use social media when applying to grad school

As our real worlds and virtual worlds continue to converge, it's a good idea to treat social media not as a challenge, but as an opportunity. In this third part of the Grad School 101 series, you will learn how to use social media to research grad programs and strengthen your network.
BY Mallika Khanna |   15-07-2019

BrainGain Magazine

If you’ve been following anything at all about college admissions over the last few months, you’ve probably heard all about Kyle Kashuv, the 18 year old whose admission to Harvard was rescinded after screenshots showing him using racist slurs and offensive language in chats with his high school friends were circulated around social media. This isn’t new: in 2017, ten students had their admissions rescinded from Harvard because they shared obscene and offensive memes on a facebook group for incoming freshmen.

If these examples tell us anything, it’s that social media is no longer isolated from your college profile. Our online personas are steadily converging with our real-world identities and it is fair to assume that any information that’s publicly available about you is easily accessible to admissions committees.

Recognizing the dangers of misusing social media is crucial, but it’s also worth remembering that that’s not the only relationship social media can have with admissions. When used right, platforms like Twitter and Facebook can actually be of great value to prospective students, especially at the graduate level. Depending on the social media strategy you choose to follow, you can either remove yourself from the grad school radar completely or engage with it very deliberately.

Cleaning up your social media

Before using social media to network or crowdsource information, you need to have a feed that’s clean, presentable and authentic. This doesn’t mean professionalizing every aspect of your profile- if the only pictures on your feed are you winning awards and speaking at conferences, it’s pretty obvious you’ve gone to lengths to hide something. Instead, it’s a good idea to look over any posts that might be a red flag - offensive jokes you might have made when you were younger, photos of you getting trashed at college parties- and wipe them from your social media history.

It’s not a bad idea to make all your social media profiles private if you don’t plan to use them for networking or learning about graduate programs. Even so, be careful not to post anything too objectionable or offensive (hopefully you don’t want to in the first place!) because screenshots stick around for far longer than an original post in an impulsive moment.

Using social media as an asset

As a disclaimer: you shouldn’t feel obliged to craft a public profile to get into grad school. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll receive a significant advantage by beefing up your profile with professional achievements and research. The real advantage you get out of a better-curated social media profile is access to academic networks that can help you learn about the grad school environment, find mentors and engage with your field.

How do you do this? Once you’ve cleaned up your feed, you can begin to highlight the parts of yourself that you want to show your network. Some platforms are better for this than others: Twitter, for example, has becomea great space for professional networking, so it’s a good idea to include your current occupation, research interests and (if applicable) a couple of publications/ achievements in your bio. Don’t go overboard with this- you aren’t writing a CV. Just make sure that if someone happens to visit your profile, they can glean your interest in your field. Sharing links to a blog/ publication where people can read your work is also useful, as is sharing/ retweeting the work of scholars in your field.

Once you’ve dressed up your profile, start looking at the profiles of professors you might want to work with and of current grad students in departments you plan to apply to. Look at the kinds of links they’re sharing: these may highlight new research in their field, work they’ve done recently or even professional/ scholarship opportunities at their university. Following scholars whose work is relevant to you on social media can give you a good sense of what kinds of intellectual questions the community is most engaged with, keeping which in mind you can craft a grad school application that feels current and relevant to your field.

There’s another huge advantage to following professors and grad students on their social media: they tend to be a lot more honest about their universities/ departments as well as the current state of their field than they would be anywhere else. This candour can be immensely helpful in determining whether you’d fit with a university or not. It can also give you a good sense of the jobs that are available in your field for students graduating from a program you’re interested in.

Some other accounts worth following: official university accounts, ranking services for the latest on grad school rankings, publications around higher education (eg The Chronicle of Higher Education) communities in your field (eg National Society of Professional Engineers)


  • It’s usually appropriate to reach out to other graduate students via social media, but it’s never a good idea to reach out to professors in the same way. Following a professor on social media is for your intellectual benefit, but ultimately if you want to reach out to them, you should go old school and email their university address. Anything else risks seeming too forward.
  • There are some grey areas in what you should and shouldn’t post on social media: it’s possible, for example, that a highly politically charged post could turn a more traditional member of an admissions committee off. Use your own judgment here: if you feel very strongly about something and think it’s necessary to share publicly, it’s worth taking the risk that it might upset some people in prospective grad programs because, after all, you wouldn’t want to end up in a place where your strongest beliefs are constantly challenged. On the flipside, posting incendiary opinions just to get likes might not be the best idea if you have even the slightest inkling that any of the places you’re applying to may not agree with that way of thinking.
  • When you hear back from graduate programs, only share the decision you’ve made on a public profile once you and the universities have hashed out all the details. It’s not a great idea to call out universities you’ve rejected or that have rejected you publicly because you never know if you might end up wanting to reapply or looking for a job there.

As our real worlds and internet worlds continue to converge, it’s a good idea to treat social media not as a challenge, but as an opportunity. If you’re going to be using a social platform one way or the other, why not make that exercise meaningful?

Do you want to figure out how to choose the right grad school? And whether rankings should have a huge say in the process? Our Grad School 101 series has you covered.



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