College Bound (9-12)

How can information you post on the Internet affect your future opportunities?

Students learn that everything they or anyone else posts about them online becomes part of a public online presence known as a digital footprint.

Using the Admissions Packet Student Handout, they view elements of two students’ digital footprints and consider how the footprints might affect those students’ admission to college. Students then discuss what kinds of information they would want included in their own digital footprints, and learn strategies for shaping a positive online presence.

Students will be able to ...

  • learn that they have a public presence online called a digital footprint.
  • recognize that any information they post online can help or hurt their image and future opportunities, including their chances for college admission or employment.
  • consider how to present an authentic and positive image of themselves online.


Materials and Preparation

  • Preview the Admissions Packet Student Handout — Teacher Version.
  • Copy the Admissions Packet Student Handout, one for each student.
  • Prepare a list of search results for a celebrity or other well-known person in a form that all students can see, perhaps on an interactive white board or overhead projector.


Teaching Plans


Warm-up (10 minutes)

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term digital footprint.

DISCUSS with students how the information in a digital footprint becomes public by being copied and passed on so that it can be searched and viewed by a large, invisible audience. Also discuss the fact that the information in a digital footprint is often permanently online, because it is archived in a variety of ways and passed on by others.

SHOW students the video, “Abbas’s Story – Pride in Your Digital Footprint.”

ASK: What were some of the messages that stood out to you in this video? Can you relate to Abbas? Why or why not?
Students’ answers will vary.

ASK: Abbas says that he thinks colleges would actually “kind of like his Facebook page.” What examples does Abbas give about how he has created a positive digital footprint for himself? 
Sample responses:

  • He posts a lot of pictures with his family, which shows that he’s really active with his family members.
  • A lot of the statuses he puts up are connected to the volunteer work that he does at a community organization for youth.
  • He posts music that he creates, which shows people his talent and that he’s pursuing his interests.

ASK: Do you think you should judge someone solely based on what you find about them online? Why or why not? 
Students should recognize that someone’s online presence might include things that were intended to be private, or inaccurate information posted by someone else. It could even include information about another person with the same name. Therefore, it may not give a complete or balanced picture of the person.

SHARE with students that they will be exploring how information they post today could affect themselves and others in the future – for better and for worse. Point out that this online material may affect them as they apply to college or think about future jobs and opportunities. Encourage students to consider that they have the ability to shape their online profile so that it presents an image they can be proud of. 


teach 1

Review College Applications (15 minutes)

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary terms admission, applicant, and candidate.

ARRANGE students in groups of two to three and distribute the Admissions Packet Student Handout, one for each group.

EXPLAIN to students they will be role-playing college admissions officers, the people who decide which candidates should be admitted to a college. Tell them that two high school seniors, Markus and Tommy, have applied for admission to college. Their applications include their grades, test scores, and a personal essay. The problem is that the college only has room for one of them. The admissions officers decide to gather information from each candidate’s digital footprint to help make their decision.

Note: Your students will likely have a variety of paths in their futures. You may wish to emphasize that many of the same factors that affect their college admissions would also apply to getting a job or getting into a training program.

INSTRUCT students to work as a group to read and fill out their handouts.


teach 2

Select a Candidate (15 minutes)

INVITE a volunteer from each group to explain which applicant they chose to admit, and why. Refer to the Admissions Packet Student Handout – Teacher Version for guidance on leading the discussion.

ENCOURAGE students to further probe their choices by using these follow-up questions.

ASK: Why did you not choose the other candidate? Is there additional information about this candidate that could have made you want to choose him?
Sample responses:

  • Markus did not get in because he did not seem that interesting. He also seemed a little unmotivated. (Maybe it would make a difference if Markus had a stronger online presence that showed he was interested in things other than sports.)
  • We did not select Tommy because we thought he was fake or insincere. (Maybe it would make a difference if you knew that the exchange between Tommy and his friend Maggie was a private joke. Maybe Maggie is also trying to get in to the same college as Tommy, and writes joke messages to make him seem insincere.)

ASK: Do you think the comments by JJ and Maggie had a positive or negative effect on their friends’ chances for college? Do you think this is what they intended when they wrote the comments?
Students should recognize that these comments revealed private information about Markus and Tommy, and also emphasized negative rather than positive qualities. You might ask students to comment on JJ and Maggie’s motivations.

ASK: Do you think this is a good way for a real admissions officer to make a final choice? Why or why not?
Students should understand that while admissions officers, prospective employers, and the like sometimes do look at online profiles, this may not be the best or fairest way to assess someone. The material that appears online may not present a full or accurate picture of a person and of his or her personality and achievements.

ASK: Do you think teens share too much information about themselves or about others online? Why or why not?
Students will have differing opinions, but they should recognize the importance of carefully considering what they contribute to their digital footprints, and to the digital footprints of others.



Wrap-up (5 minutes)

You can use these questions to assess your students’ understanding of the lesson objectives. You may want to ask students to reflect in writing on one of the questions, using a journal or an online blog/wiki.

ASK: How is a digital footprint created? Why does the information in a digital footprint often become public, and why is it permanent?
Students should know that a digital footprint is all the information online about a person either posted by that person or others. The information in it can become public because it can be searched, copied, and passed on so that it plays to a large invisible audience. It can be difficult or impossible to remove, and it therefore becomes a permanent part of their online image.

ASK: What types of online information would help present the most positive image of you?
Students should realize that their reputation may be enhanced by information on interests and activities, opinions, and material giving a consistent picture of oneself.

ASK: What are some of the larger ethical implications of sharing information online about others?
Guide students to reflect on how people can influene the digital footprints of others — for better or for worse — and how it is therefore the responsibility of a good digital citizen to be mindful of what they post about others.

Extension Activity

Have students pretend that they are high school college counselors. Ask them to write a formal letter to their high school students, who are prospective college applicants, about the importance of a positive digital footprint. As college counselors, they should give concrete tips and examples for curating a positive online presence, as well as caution about the possible consequences of a negative digital footprint.

At-Home Activity

Have students analyze their own online presence. They can do this by searching on their own names and reviewing their profiles on the school website or social media sites. Revisit the lesson introduction, in which they imagined their future digital footprint, and ask them what they can do now to create a footprint they will be proud of. Encourage students to invite a parent or other family member to help them strategize about creating a positive online presence. Ask them to report back to the class on at least one change they made or decided to make. Create a webpage about your future using free online software, such as Wix.


Alignment with Standards

Common Core & NETS•S
Common Core State Standards Initiative ©2012 & National Educational Technology Standards for Students ©2007, International Society for Technology in Education

Common Core: 

  • grades 9-10: RL.1, RL2, RL.4, RL.7, RL.8, RL.10, RI.1-4, RI.8, RI.10, W.2a-f, W.4-6, W.10, SL.1a-d, SL.3-5, L.4a, L.6
  • grades 11-12: RL.1, RL.2, RL.4, RL.7, RL.8, RL.10, RI.1, RI.2, RI.4, RI.10, W.2a-f, W.4-6, W.10, SL.1a-d, SL.2-5, L.4a, L.6

NETS•S: 1d, 2a, 2d, 3b, 3d, 4a-c, 5a-c