3 Rules for International Students Using U.S. Social Media

Prospective international students new to social media should avoid these common mistakes.

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It’s appropriate to reach out to schools on social media, but avoid overdoing your questions or comments just to get attention.
It’s appropriate to reach out to schools on social media, but avoid overdoing your questions or comments just to get attention.

Social media services have become a great resource for many college students who want to stay connected to campus. Prospective students can also use websites such as Facebook and Twitter in order to get firsthand information about the schools they are interested in. However, there are a few things international students should be aware of when connecting with their dream schools on the Internet.

International students should not overlook cultural differences when visiting Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Most U.S schools choose Facebook or Twitter as the major social media outlets they use to stay in touch with their students and prospective students. However, both websites are not allowed in some parts of the world, including China. 

While many countries have their own versions of these services and international students are typically familiar with at least some of them, that's not a guarantee that they understand how to avoid mistakes. 

Many of the local social websites are relatively small in size and are used mostly by young people, so it is rather easy to maintain a certain level of privacy and exclusivity. However, websites such as Facebook are much more influential and inclusive – they are used by millions of people and organizations around the world. The following guidelines can help prospective international students avoid common mistakes in using these sites. 

[Find out how to connect with colleges through social media.] 

1. Don't misbehave: International students who are newcomers to these websites should be sure to follow a certain code of conduct when using them. 

A few months ago, a Chinese friend of mine wrote a rather explicit and lewd post on his Facebook page. It might have seemed funny or interesting to some, but what he did not consider was the fact that such posts could be seen by strangers, even admissions officers. 

The Internet is not as private as one may think, so be sure to always post things that are appropriate. 

I have a cousin who works at the admissions office in her university, and she told me that many American schools keep a file of all the interactions applicants have with them, so be extra careful online. Contact you have with a school on social media may end up as part of your file – and part of the admissions office's evaluation of your application. 

[Learn to avoid these five college admissions mistakes.]

2. Don't spam: It is always good for prospective international students to ask schools questions via social media or post comments on a school's profile. However, some prospective international students may overdo it for the sake of getting attention. 

It is important to impress the admissions officers in the early stages of applying, so try posting some thoughtful comments instead of writing things such as "Good advice" or "Thank you for the information" everywhere. These sorts of posts are not going to improve your chances of getting into your dream school. 

Keep questions and comments as succinct as possible, in keeping with the word limits of these services. On Twitter, that limit is only 140 characters. 

[Get tips on researching U.S. colleges from abroad.] 

3. Don't show off: Many international friends of mine are obsessed with improving their English abilities and as a result, they go to great lengths trying to speak and write like Americans – my inbox is always filled with text-speak like "thx" and "c u l8r." 

Such abbreviations are fine in your daily life, but it is better to use formal language when communicating with school officials online. Using proper language often indicates that you are serious and respectful, which can impress admissions officers. 

Yao Lu, from China, is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh with an intended major in information science.