You are responsible for and in control of your character.
You can work your tail off throughout high school, earn stellar grades and boost your ACT test scores. You can create the ideal balance of Reach, Target and Safety schools and craft a slam-dunk college essay and whiz-bang college application that captures attention of your top-choice colleges. But at the end of the day, there will still be elements of the college applications process that are beyond your control.
But Character is one thing that is always, ALWAYS within your control both in college planning, and in life. You are 100% responsible for your Character. One source defines character as the way an individual uniquely thinks, feels and behaves. Another suggests that character is, “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”.
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “The true test of a person’s character is what they do when no one’s looking.”
What do you do when no one’s looking, or when you think no one’s looking? What do you say when you think you know who you’re talking to, but you realize later there were others listening in? Or people who caught wind secondhand later on? Social media and the whole digital world makes this whole scene mighty murky, because of powerful buttons that all too easily Share, Forward, Invite, and Screen Shot.
In June, Harvard rescinded offers to 10 incoming freshmen over extremely poor social media decisions which suggested questionable moral character. In a nutshell, the students formed a subgroup online out of Harvard’s Facebook group for incoming freshmen and proceeded to make racially- and sexually explicit comments. The news made national headlines including CNN and Forbes.
So while (sadly) flawless character won’t necessarily guarantee you a spot at the college of your choice, it’s evident that actions which demonstrate questionable character can boot you out.
And this is the part of the story where people shake their fists in the air, demanding protection of free speech, as they did in response to this news story. Well, perhaps another definition of Character is knowing when having the Freedom to do or say something should be tempered with having the Wisdom not to.
Think it’s just the Ivies who may monitor social media accounts when considering “the whole college candidate”? Think again. A US News & World Reports article earlier this year indicated that “In a Kaplan Test Prep survey of more than 350 college admissions officers in the U.S., 35 percent of officers polled reported having looked at applicants’ social media accounts to learn more about them.” The article indicates that often visits to social media are a boost to the candidate’s appeal, since it reveals involvement in activities they may not have mentioned in their essay, or beliefs and values that are consistent with the college’s ideals and indicate a good fit. The important point is that more and more colleges are considering social media accounts fair game for considering a candidate’s overall fit with the college. And the same is true for potential employers, so young adults may as well get used to thinking twice about what they post on social media.
It’s wise to exercise extreme caution in conversations both on and offline. Be intentional about what you make public via social media. When in doubt, use the Grandmother Rule. (If you wouldn’t say it to your grandmother, don’t say it in social media.)
Think I’m being extreme? Well there are 10 really flippin’ smart kids who made a dumb move that called their character into question. And now they’re scratching their heads, wondering what they’ll be doing this fall, when they’d figured they’d be headed to Harvard. I’ll bet they don’t think the Grandmother Rule is such a bad idea about now.
So as we wrap up this caution on memes, let me put one to use. Stay classy. Whether you’re in San Diego, Wisconsin or North Dakota. You just never know who’s paying attention.