The rise of the admissions bloggers.

McGann and Ben-O gave a presentation today at the NEACAC Annual Conference on the MIT Office of Admissions‘ use of blogs. This is a topic which is close to home, as the whole idea came out during my time in the office, when a bunch of MIT applicants stumbled across my own personal blog. Apparently my seventh entry ever was one of the top ten Google hits for the query “MIT early action” (this is no longer the case). Presumably intrigued by discovering the personal weblog of an MIT admissions officer, a prospective student posted the link to College Confidential, and suddenly a significant portion of my hits were from high school students interested in MIT.
New to the blogging world and thrilled to realize I had a new and unexpected built-in audience, I started to take this into consideration in my entries. In addition to the stuff I wanted to post about anyway, I tried to make entries about life at MIT, the admissions process, and the Boston area. My thought was that this could be a really marvelous opportunity to demystify the black-box of admissions, make it more human, and help high schoolers to realize that admissions officers are real people with real lives, who think and care a lot about their work. Plus, I thought that, being an MIT alumna, I could provide both an admissions counselor’s and a recent student’s perspective on the Institute, something which could be very valuable to kids trying to get a feel for the place, and to make decisions about where they want to go to college.
It was a wonderful exercise for me — not to mention a lot of fun — and it offered a great new way of interacting casually with applicants. I developed correspondences with several students, and was even able to give feedback and information to curious parents. Once I realized the potential this conversational medium had for admissions, I shared it with my coworkers — first carefully, talking just to McGann and Laura, and then, when the applicants had become regular readers, with Marilee and Lorelle and Joanne and the rest of the senior staff. Marilee was initially skeptical, but I think once everyone in the office realized how good it was proving to be for prospective students and their families, they started to get behind it. There was nothing official about my blog — it wasn’t focused solely on admissions, and I wasn’t writing only for an admissions office — but it was a beginning.
It wasn’t until the spring, though, that I realized the full impact of what I was doing. When I was approached by admitted students at Campus Preview Weekend with the words, “Oh, you’re Amrys, with the blog!” or “I read your blog!” — and even “Oh, oh, oh: best entry ever…” followed by a description of a favorite post — the extent to which my blog had made a difference was really driven home for me. These kids (and many of their parents) had actually found my blog to be helpful, reassuring, illuminating, even fun. They’d had a point of contact to humanize the whole process, to remind them that real people — people like me — were behind these decisions, and that had, for many people, been incredibly positive.
But it wasn’t just prospective students who were reading my blog, I discovered. At the IVY+ Admissions Conference, hosted at MIT in 2004, I was approached by other admissions officers who had read my blog. One woman actually introduced herself to me as “your doppelganger” — also class of ’02, also an admissions counselor, also working at her alma mater, also possessed of a Welsh first name and an English surname. I mean: wow.
With the new MIT Admissions portal underway, blogging seemed to be something that our office should be taking advantage of intentionally, rather than accidentally. Thanks to our staff’s openness, and the positively stellar support, advocacy, and follow-through of admissions officer extraordinaire Matt McGann and our new communications director and rock star Ben Jones — not to mention cooperation from FinAid and the help of the student interns — this past cycle saw blogs making an enormous impact on the admissions process at MIT. It created a community of prospective students who were able to connect with each other, have their questions answered, develop relationships with admissions folk and other people at the Institute, and really recruit each other. We’ve always said that MIT students are the best reason to come to MIT, so it only makes sense that to put prospective students in touch with other prospective students.
I think the next few years will see other colleges hopping on board the blogging bandwagon. Of course, it isn’t all puppy dogs and roses: it’s a lot of work, and there are a lot of challenges and decisions to be faced when implementing something like this. I suspect that blogs will be truly useful in admissions only if they are not simply publicity tools, but forums, communities, and places for honesty. I think MIT’s done a pretty good job of this, and I’d like to give props to Matt and Ben, who took my accident and made it into an enormous success.
This entry is meant to be a reflection on what’s occurred over the past couple of years, not a rigorous analysis of blogging and/or admissions. These are, of course, topics I’ve thought a lot about, but they deserve a more thoughtful and critical entry. Perhaps that will come soon. Meanwhile, I’d just like to recognize the achievements of my former colleagues, who will be receiving Infinite Mile awards next week for their dedication and hard work. I think they deserve it.

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