There are a few reasons why graduating high school seniors should consider having their own personal website. First, if they are applying to colleges, it can infuse aspects of their personality to a standard college application (by using other forms of media such as a video essay). Second, it is a platform for career development and planning – they are forced to show vision with their career. Third, it “starts the ball rolling” with personal branding – something that takes a long time to develop; they begin making connections and impacting how others perceive them.
Some colleges that have added an optional video essay to their application include Tufts University, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, George Mason University, and the College of William and Mary. The idea is to give a chance for applicants to show originality. Tovia Smith of NPR says:
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then you’ve got to figure a video would be worth way more than your average college essay.
I spoke with ten college admission counselors about their undergraduate application process. I wanted to understand whether colleges look at video essays and/or personal websites. Here is what I learned:
- None of the colleges require them. A college cannot be sure all applicants have the resources to create a video or personal website.
- Most selective colleges will review them (though consider them as supplemental). You should provide as much content as possible with a college application, so use a video essay to show ingenuity. There are two ways to submit the content as a hyperlink: in the supplemental section of an online application or an email to the college admissions office.
- Field of study demands a demonstration. If you are applying to art school, you might provide a portfolio of artwork. If you are applying to a highly technical program, you might share a project you worked on. And there are many other examples where the best way to establish credibility is by demonstrating with a sample of work.
- Some colleges have a heavy load of applications. One admissions counselor said his school receives sixty-five thousand applications so it is difficult to allocate any more time to review an application. Moreover, it is only fair to make “apple to apple” comparisons among applicants.
- Call the admissions office before filling out an application and ask about their policy for accepting a video essay and/or personal website.
Graduating high school seniors should have a personal website because it forces them to start planning and developing their career. While developing their personal website, they must formulate short-term career objectives. They identify what skills they need and how they plan to build an expertise with them (as proposed in the planning stage of a skills-based approach). A personal website starts small (perhaps only a video), and grows incrementally as a professional matures.
Online personal branding is a long-term objective, something professionals develop throughout their career. The earlier they start, the faster their personal brand resembles how they want to be perceived. It takes years to establish an effective personal brand. Here are some key points:
- Create a personal brand for the future. Students should take the time in college to work on their personal brand, so after graduation, they are prepared for the job market. They should learn personal branding techniques, conduct peer reviews on how others perceive them, and employ trial and error to get the perception right. Having already established a personal brand when graduating college is a huge advantage for job seeking.
- Manage published content. I understand most high school seniors want to be social and do not consider the nuances of a professional reputation. It makes sense to have personal content in social media (just nothing unsavory or unlawful). So early in a career, a personal website serves as a primary professional reference (an identity).
- Create connections. An important part of personal branding is connecting with others. High school seniors are probably already well versed in Facebook but will have to learn to make professional connections in LinkedIn. A personal website becomes a landing page for social media services.
- Developing a personal website is sophisticated. There are many dimensions to a personal website: style, appearance, demonstration, content, communication, and personality. Building a personal website is time-consuming; the more time you spend on it, the better it becomes.