December 12, 2022

Right and Wrong Ways to Use Social Media as a Medical School Applicant

Can your social media presence affect your chances of getting into medical school?

In the grand scheme, I find it hard to believe that medical school admissions committees would spend much time scouring Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter in an attempt to “cancel” their applicants. But is there any evidence one way or the other?

According to the US News and World Report, “only about 9% of admissions officers said they routinely checked applicants’ social media, but 50% said that unprofessional content on an applicant’s social media network could negatively affect his or her chance for acceptance.”

But this data came from a study in 2013, nearly 10 years ago. Clearly social media platforms have grown even more ubiquitous and influential in the past decade. So perhaps that 9% would be higher if such a study were conducted again in the present.

More recently, when the AAMC interviewed Scott M. Rodgers, MD, associate dean for medical student affairs at Vanderbilt School of Medicine, he made it clear that one’s social media presence is fair game when evaluating candidates: “Every student should assume that admissions committees DO look up applicants online and sometimes come across information about people that can either hurt or help a candidate.”

Whether it’s common practice or a rare occurrence, I think you should take your social media presence seriously. Better to be safe than sorry. Just imagine the embarrassment and regret you’d feel if your unsavory posts on Facebook or Instagram were the reason you were rejected.

My goal in this article is to provide tips on the right and wrong ways to use social media as a medical school applicant, to ensure that your internet presence plays to your advantage and not the other way around.

Can My Online Information Be Considered in the Admissions Process?

Definitely. Medical school admissions committees may very well research a candidate online as an informal background check. It’s perfectly legal, and any information found about you can be used as another criterion in a committee’s evaluation of you.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. According to Dr. Rodgers’s report to the AAMC, “An applicant should not make the assumption that everything online is necessarily bad and should be removed. For example, if a student led a major service activity at his or her university, and a story about it appeared in the online university newspaper, that is a very good thing!”

LinkedIn is generally considered a positive professional social media account, as compared to platforms like TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. On LinkedIn, you can publicly display your coursework, projects, awards, and job experience, thereby allowing medical schools to potentially learn more about you beyond the confines of your application.

Perhaps even more importantly, LinkedIn allows you to gather recommendations and endorsements from others, search for medical school alumni to create connections, and join groups to network. This could be invaluable in finding key opportunities in research labs, securing clinical jobs, or finding people to write your letters of recommendation.

It’s best to include a professional headshot for your profile picture and add your email address or phone number in case people want to contact you. 

How Can I Assess My Internet Presence?

I would start by performing a general web search of your name to see what comes up on Google. You may be unpleasantly (or pleasantly) surprised by how much of your personal information is visible to others.

In addition to your social media profiles, you may find links to articles, listings of your address, petitions you’ve signed, or comments you’ve left on websites.

Whether you choose to remove or rescind these findings, it’s important to discover what search results are found so that you can speak towards them if they’re brought up during an interview.

If you’re not happy with some of the findings, I would explore the possibility of removing them. In some cases it may be tedious, but you should be able to contact sites and ask them to take down certain items or posts.

Also, I would focus on what you can easily control. This might simply mean adjusting your privacy settings on social media so that the results no longer appear publicly.

How Can My Internet Presence Negatively Affect Me?

Obviously, anything illegal should be immediately removed, if at all possible. This would most likely be underage drinking, but could extend to vandalism or other infractions.

But you also need to be wary of any commentary that could be considered politically incorrect or discriminatory, especially if it’s related to race, religion, or gender. In his report, Dr. Rodgers shared a noteworthy example of this: “I heard of a student posting pictures of Confederate flags, calling it an example of ‘Southern pride,’ but this calls into question that student’s sensitivity to the struggles of African Americans in this country and causes admissions committees to question the student’s judgment.”

This phenomenon does not end when your application is submitted. A level of decorum and professionalism must be maintained before, during, and after the application any time you communicated with the administration or admissions officers at your schools. Always utilize the school’s preferred method of contact, and definitely refrain from using social media to direct message admission officials’ personal accounts.

Quick Tips for Social Media and Internet Safety

  • Make your personal social accounts private so that you approve all friend and follower requests
  • Adjust your settings so that you can approve all tags and check-ins
  • Delete anything you’re not proud of or that could be misconstrued; if you have any doubt about posting something, don’t do it
  • Err on the side of less rather than more; perhaps even suspend all social media accounts until you’ve started medical school
  • Never share your passwords with anyone for any reason
  • Keep pictures, statuses, and comments clean
  • Always sign out of public or shared computers/devices

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