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Can Colleges Revoke Your Admission Because of Social Media Posts?

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Recently, several colleges have made headlines because they’ve revoked incoming students’ admission due to their racist social media posts. That’s left lots of high school students wondering about how their Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter posts will affect their college admissions chances. 

In this article, we’ll help you understand how social media can impact your admissions c chances. We’ll explain: 

  • Why some students have had their admission revoked recently 
  • What universities have said about their decisions 
  • What you can do to make sure your social media helps, rather than hurts, your admissions chances

Let’s take a look. 

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Incoming freshmen are getting kicked out of college before they ever set foot on campus because of their social media posts.

 

Social Media Posts and Revoking Admissions: The Issue

Since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020, U.S. colleges and universities have taken action against racist language and behavior exhibited in admitted students’ social media posts. 

 

Schools Have Revoked Students’ Admission Over Social Media Posts

In some instances, several of which are cited in this New York Times article, universities have chosen to rescind admissions offers based on the content of admitted students’ social media posts.  

Here’s one example: a University of Richmond football recruit will no longer attend the university due to his use of a racial slur in a Snapchat video shared from a friend’s account in late June 2020. In the video, the admitted student uses the racial slur, then states, “Oh wait, you can’t put that one up.” The recording then circulated on Twitter, after which an online petition calling for rescission of the student’s admissions offer gathered over 400 signatures. Soon after, the university issued a statement indicating that the video “did not reflect the university’s values or its commitment to a thriving and inclusive community.” 

Several other instances of revoked admissions have been documented at private universities as well, including Marquette University. An admitted student lost her spot at Marquette in early June because of her proclamation on Snapchat that “it’s OK to kneel on someone’s head” because others feel it’s acceptable to kneel during the National Anthem (referencing the death of George Floyd). After the school revoked the student’s admission, it released a statement saying Marquette is “called to build a nurturing, inclusive community where all people feel safe, supported, welcomed and celebrated.”

While most of the rescinded admissions during summer 2020 have cited recent social media content as the catalyst for these decisions, social media posts from several years ago have sparked rescinded offers as well. Recently, a 2020 valedictorian lost her place at the University of Florida after Twitter posts featuring racist language surfaced. The posts from over a year ago featured derogatory language about two of the valedictorian’s black classmates, and a caption in which the student states, “I really try so hard not to be a racist person, but I most definitely am, there’s no denying it.” Despite the post being a few years old, the University of Florida still took action and revoked the student’s admission. 

 

But Not All Schools Are Taking Action

But not all schools have decided to take action based on incoming students’ social media content. Other schools have upheld their admissions decisions despite awareness of students’ sharing of racist content on social media. One such instance is exemplified by Louisiana State University. The school was confronted with recent online video recordings of students using racist language. The school argued that students had a constitutional right to free speech and decided not to revoke their admission, though the students later chose to withdraw on their own. 

Having admission revoked isn’t a new thing, nor is it common even in 2020. In an article in Inside Higher Ed, it’s noted that rescinded admissions due to hate speech concerns are rare, but not unheard of, and are more likely to occur at private institutions than public ones. 

 

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At first glance, universities' decisions to revoke admission may seem unfair. Here's why they're doing it. 

 

Why Are Universities Making These Calls? 

Many admitted students might be wondering what factors inform a school’s decision to rescind admissions or uphold a student’s admission. To understand a school’s motivation for taking a particular action in response to racist behavior among its admitted students, let’s take a closer look at why schools have fallen on different sides of this issue.

 

Why Schools Have Rescinded Admissions Offers

There are two main lines of reasoning that universities have put out there as fueling their actions. Universities that have rescinded incoming students’ admission have explained their reasoning like this:   

Racism does not align with the university’s admissions standards and mission, therefore we can and will rescind admissions offers to any student who exhibits racist behaviors. 

Schools that have chosen to rescind admissions offers based on racist social media posts point to their admissions standards as a line of defense for these decisions. Colleges and universities clearly describe the qualities and characteristics that they are looking for in applicants on their websites, admissions brochures, and application packets. Students who are admitted to these schools receive offers based on the school’s impression that, based on all available information, that student meets the school’s standards of conduct and character. 

When an admitted student shows that their character does not align with the university’s standards for admission, it stands to reason that they may no longer be eligible for admission. 

 

Criticism

But this argument has been countered on the basis of legality. Organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) have stated that the First Amendment--which with public universities are legally obligated to comply--protects the rights of public university students, even when those students say racist, offensive hateful things. As of now, it is possible that FIRE will sue universities that have rescinded offers, based on precedent. 

Although private universities aren’t necessarily subject to the same laws and regulations, they can also get into trouble if their decisions are arbitrarily made. For example, if the school has not posted any information about student behavior standards or hate speech policies, then students could potentially challenge a university’s decision to revoke their admission. 

 

Why Schools Haven’t Rescinded Admissions Offers

Universities that have spoken out against students’ racist social media content but have not taken action have justified their position like this: 

Universities are legally required to uphold the principles of free speech as described in the First Amendment, therefore, despite the offensiveness of these racist posts, we will not rescind admissions offers to the students who produced this content. 

These schools cite students’ right to free speech as the defining factor in their decisions to remain consistent on existing admissions offers, stating that they are legally bound to uphold principles of free speech that are embodied in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

The First Amendment prevents the U.S. government from limiting people’s freedom of expression, though private organizations, companies, and entities aren’t held to the same standard. That’s why in the past, private universities have been more likely to revoke students’ admissions than public universities. 

 

Criticism

This stance has received its fair share of criticism as well. ACLU staff attorney Emerson Sykes perceives the “upholding the First Amendment” response as a way to shirk the difficult responsibility of responding to racial incidents. 

When instances of racism and other forms of hate speech impact a campus community, Sykes claims, a school’s first response shouldn’t be to point to the First Amendment and then walk away. Instead, he argues that schools should start by “think[ing] about the ways that [the] community can heal,” then address their legal obligations. 

Another counterargument is that schools have an obligation to provide a safe learning environment for all students. Since racism, homophobia, and other types of hate speech can make students in affected groups feel unsafe, then the university has an obligation to take action.  

It isn’t clear right now whether the schools’ decisions, whether for or against rescinding admissions, will remain intact as some of these cases get decided in court. 

 

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At this point, you may be worried that your admission offer is in danger. Don't panic yet, though. Read on to learn how these decisions may—or may not!—impact you.

 

What These Admissions Decisions Mean for You 

Okay, now that you know more about the situation...what does it mean for you? 

Most importantly, these decisions tell us that students can, and sometimes will, be held accountable for the things they say online. Social media is a public forum, and while you may have freedom of speech, that does not mean freedom from consequence! If the things you post on your social accounts violate your university’s student code of conduct, the university may choose to hold you accountable. Many schools consider admitted students part of their university community, and they hold incoming freshmen to the same standards as their sophomore, junior, and senior students. 

But what if you have your social media accounts set to private? Shouldn’t that give you some protection? 

Unfortunately, secure social media accounts aren’t completely airtight. Even if you have a finsta account that only a handful of your friends can see, all it takes is for one screenshot to go viral for you to end up in hot water with your future university. 

Also keep in mind that in some of the examples we listed above, the student whose admission was revoked was filmed by other people who posted the content to their social media accounts. So while you may be managing your personal account pretty closely, that’s no guarantee that other people are being as cautious as you are. 

Of course, almost everyone has at least one social media account that they use regularly. Being on social media isn’t a bad thing, but if you’re serious about going to college, then you need to be smart about how you use it. Keep reading for our top tips for making sure that your social media presence doesn’t affect your ability to get into your dream school. 

 

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If you're an international student, you'll be held to a similar standard to U.S. students. Here's what you need to know. 

 

Are International Students Held to the Same Standard? 

If you’re an international student who’s coming to college in the U.S., this might seem like a lot. How will you know if what you’re saying on social media could be considered problematic by your future university? 

Generally speaking, any content that can be seen as derogatory toward people of a specific race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion is going to be a no-go for American universities. This is a result of a centuries-long battle for equality for all people, and the struggle continues in 2020 with social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter

We know that this can seem really intimidating, especially since you may not be familiar with the long and complicated history of racism, sexism, and homophobia in the United States. The good news is that as of right now, there’s no public record of any international students in the incoming class of 2020-2021 having admission revoked due to their social media content.

But keep in mind that universities hold all their students to the same standards of conduct, so even though you’re not from the U.S., you’ll have to be cognizant of the political history and climate of the states to make sure you stay out of trouble. The best thing you can do is read through your university’s Student Code of Conduct. It’s almost always available online, and it will clearly outline which behaviors are considered unacceptable by your school. 

 

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You don't have to quit social media entirely if you're applying to college! But you do need to be smart about how you use it.

 

5 Tips for Maintaining a Social Media Presence That’s Above Reproach

It’s important for prospective and admitted college students in today’s age to remember that colleges and universities will largely view your social media presence as an extension of who you are and where your values lie. 

Here’s what you can do to make sure your social media accounts portray you as the empathetic, inclusive, and kind person that universities expect you to be. 

 

Tip 1: Don’t Be Racist (or any Other Type of -Ist) 

This first tip is pretty straightforward: Don’t be racist! Even more broadly, don’t post any content that could be construed as hate speech, which is what universities are on the lookout for. 

If you aren’t sure what types of content could be considered hateful or problematic, take this opportunity to educate yourself. Read some books about being an anti-racist, or watch YouTube videos about hate speech. 

Remember: just because you have a First Amendment right to your opinion doesn’t mean you can say (or post!) anything you want without consequence. 

 

Tip 2: Consider all Possible Interpretations Before You Post 

One of the biggest challenges of social media is that the language or images included in captions, photos, and video footage can easily be taken out of context. You don’t want anything appearing on your social media pages that could be misinterpreted or misconstrued as being inflammatory, racist, or hateful. 

This means you need to think carefully about the language you use, who’s looking at your content, and how, where, and with whom you pose in photos and videos. Just because you haven’t considered the ways that your content might be hurtful doesn’t mean that your content isn’t harmful. 

The big takeaway? Think carefully and critically about every word and image that you share.

 

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Tip 3: Keep Your Accounts Private

This is good advice under any circumstances: keep your accounts private. While we’d hope that there isn’t problematic content on your social media profiles that you need to hide, there are other safety-related reasons why you need to protect your content and yourself by keeping your profiles private. 

Keeping your profiles private allows you to exercise your right to freedom of speech without constant fear of ramifications from strangers on the Internet. It’s no secret that debates and arguments surrounding controversial social media content can promote mob mentalities. The last thing you want is to get cancelled by your dream school because your posts went viral. 

On top of keeping you safe, setting your profiles to private also shows that you’re a media-literate individual. Colleges and universities want a student body that’s populated with students who think critically about media and society, and who have a comprehensive understanding of what constitutes professional social media conduct. 

But keep in mind that locking your accounts doesn’t guarantee safety. You should also be very careful about who you approve as a follower. Even if you’re only friends with your best friends on social media, it’s okay to talk to them about your need for privacy, too. Ask them to check with you before they share screenshots of your posts, and don’t be afraid to go through your friends/followers list regularly and purge people you don’t know or trust. 

 

Tip 4: Be Aware When You’re on Camera

We all basically live in a constant state of being filmed, photographed, or live streamed these days. That’s why it’s probably safe to assume that whatever you’re doing in public or around others may very well end up on camera. 

With this in mind, it’s important to remember to speak and act in ways that won’t make you Insta-infamous. We all get angry, lose our cool, or have conflicts with others sometimes, but to protect yourself from your worst self and show that you care about others, try to take a pause and think before you speak/act when a camera might be around. (You don’t want to be the next viral Karen, after all.

Addressing the content that others create and post about you can be touchy, but it’s also crucial that you advocate for yourself with anyone who’s pointing a camera at you. If it’s a friend or family member, tell them that you would appreciate it if they wouldn’t post images or video of you without your approval. In order to assuage hurt feelings, explain that you’re applying to college and you want to make sure that you’re always putting your best foot forward. Your friends and loved ones will understand! 

If it’s a bystander in public filming you, remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible. Even uninvolved onlookers can be caught on camera in ways that aren’t very flattering. It’s really difficult to get content about you removed from other people’s social media, so it’s best to limit opportunities for questionable content to be created in the first place. 

 

Tip 5: Remember That Online Content Lives Forever

Whether it’s your public archive of posts or a screenshot someone else shares of a photo you posted when your judgment wasn’t at 100%, the things that you post and that are posted about you take on a life of their own once the “share” button is pressed. Once you share something, you lose control over what others decide to do with it. 

This is especially important to remember where old content is concerned. To the public, whatever you share is fair game since you made the choice to put it out there...even if you shared it five years ago. This means that you need to frequently evaluate your social media pages to ensure that all of your content reflects the person you’re striving to be now. If something seems iffy, delete it--even if it’s from back in the day. 

People often change and grow into more educated, informed, and empathetic people as they get older and branch out. Make sure that your social media archive grows along with you. 

 

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What’s Next? 

If you’re planning to apply for college, the first step is understanding the process. It can be long, hard, and complicated! That’s why we’ve put together a complete, expert guide to applying for college. It helps take the mystery (and intimidation!) out of the process.

If you want to get into a competitive school, you’ll have to make excellent test scores. Learn all about how to make a perfect 1600 on the SAT here. If you’re taking the ACT, don’t worry. Here’s a how-to guide for getting a 36 on the ACT.

But scores and grades are just one part of your application packet. Universities are looking for well-rounded students who will bring a lot to their campus community. That’s why it’s important to have strong extracurricular and/or community service examples on your application, too. 

 

 

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Ashley Robinson
About the Author

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.



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