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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

MIT Blogs Featured in NY Times by Matt McGann '00

"[N]one of the [other colleges'] blogs match the interactivity and creativity of M.I.T.'s, where they are posted prominently on the admissions homepage, along with hundreds of responses from prospective applicants — all unedited."

From The New York Times (check out the awesome photo of Paul, Jess, and Chris M.!):

M.I.T. Taking Student Blogs to Nth Degree
By TAMAR LEWIN
Published: October 1, 2009


At M.I.T., from left, Paul Baranay, Jess Kim and Chris Mills write blogs for its admissions site.
Mark Wilson for The New York Times

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Cristen Chinea, a senior at M.I.T., made a confession in her blog on the college Web site.

“There’ve been several times when I felt like I didn’t really fit in at M.I.T.,” she wrote. “I nearly fell asleep during a Star Wars marathon. It wasn’t a result of sleep deprivation. I was bored out of my mind.”

Still, in other ways, Ms. Chinea feels right at home at the institute — she loves the anime club, and that her hall has its own wiki Web site and an Internet Relay for real-time messaging. As she wrote on her blog, a hallmate once told her that “M.I.T. is the closest you can get to living in the Internet,” and Ms. Chinea reported, “IT IS SO TRUE. Love. It. So. Much.”

Dozens of colleges — including Amherst, Bates, Carleton, Colby, Vassar, Wellesley and Yale — are embracing student blogs on their Web sites, seeing them as a powerful marketing tool for high school students, who these days are less interested in official messages and statistics than in first-hand narratives and direct interaction with current students.

But so far, none of the blogs match the interactivity and creativity of those of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where they are posted prominently on the admissions homepage, along with hundreds of responses from prospective applicants — all unedited.

Not every admissions office has been so ready to welcome uncensored student writing.

“A lot of people in admissions have not been eager for bloggers, mostly based on fears that we can’t control what people are saying,” said Jess Lord, dean of admissions at Haverford College, which posted student bloggers’ accounts of their summer activities this year, and plans to add bloggers this spring to help admitted students hear about campus life. “We’re learning, slowly, that this is how the world works, especially for high school students.”

M.I.T.’s bloggers, who are paid $10 an hour for up to four hours a week, offer thoughts on anything that might interest a prospective student. Some offer advice on the application process and the institute’s intense workload; others write about quirkier topics, like warm apple pie topped with bacon and hot caramel sauce, falling down the stairs or trying to set a world record in the game of Mattress Dominos.

Posting untouched student writing — and comments reacting to that writing — does carry some risks. Boring, sloppily written posts do nothing to burnish an institutional image, college admissions officials say, and there is always the possibility of an inflammatory or wildly negative posting.

Pomona has considered having student bloggers, but so far has felt that the risks outweigh the benefits, said Art Rodriguez, senior associate dean of admissions.

“Blogs can certainly help humanize the process,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “The flip side is that a few anxious high school students may think and worry too much about what someone wrote on their blog, and present themselves in a slightly different way than who they really are. And there’s always the concern about the political ramifications, that bloggers may open up an issue or topic that starts something negative.”

But Mr. Lord of Haverford said prospective students’ interest in the summer bloggers calmed his worries.

“High school students read the blogs, and they come in and say ‘I can’t believe Haverford students get to do such interesting things with their summers,’ ” he said. “There’s no better way for students to learn about a college than from other students.”

Many high school seniors avidly follow student blogs at the colleges they are interested in, and post comments. Luka, one of dozens responding to Ms. Chinea, for example, wrote: “I didn’t know about the anime club. I would have never guessed that people at M.I.T. are interested in anime. Oh well … +1 on my ‘Why should I go to M.I.T.’ list.”

M.I.T.’s student bloggers said they had read the blogs when they were applying, posted comments and connected with other applicants.

“I was blogging myself, almost every day, when I was in high school, and I read the M.I.T. blogs all the time,” said Jess Kim, a senior blogger. “For me they painted a picture of what life would be like here, and that was part of why I wanted to come.”

Ben Jones, the former director of communications at M.I.T.’s admissions office, began with a single blog by a student five years ago, at the dawn of the Facebook era, and noticed high school students responding right away. “We saw very quickly that prospective students were engaging with each other and building their own community,” said Mr. Jones, who now works at Oberlin College, where he has added blogs to the Web site.

The M.I.T. student bloggers have different majors, ethnicities, residence halls and, particularly, writing styles. Some post weekly or more; others disappear for months. The bloggers are sought out as celebrities during the annual “Meet the Bloggers” session at Campus Preview Weekend.

M.I.T. chooses its bloggers through a contest, in which applicants submit samples of their writing. “The annual blogger selection is like the admissions office’s own running of the bulls,” said Dave McOwen, Mr. Jones’s successor in the admissions office, in his message inviting applications.

This year, 25 freshmen applied for four new spots, and, Mr. McOwen said, it was hard to choose.

“You want people who can communicate and who are going to be involved in different parts of campus life,” he said. “You want them to be positive, but it’s not mandatory.”

And not all posts are positive. Ms. Kim once wrote about how the resident advising system was making it impossible for her to move out of her housing — expressing enough irritation that the housing office requested that the admissions office take her post down. Officials refused, instead having the housing office post a rebuttal of her accusations; eventually, the system was changed.

But most of the blogs are exuberant, lyrical expressions of the joys of M.I.T. life, like last month’s post on returning as a sophomore:

“Something’s changed,” wrote Chris Mills. “Now you know what you’re in for, you know the sleepless nights and frustrations are never far away, but this knowledge can’t seem to remove the exhilarating smile on your face. And it’s in that masochistic moment that you realize who you are. That this is what you’re made for.”

17 responses to “MIT Blogs Featured in NY Times”

  1. John says:

    Great article, fantastic photo, but the best phrase in the story has to be: Mr. Lord of Haverford. Positively Dickensian.

  2. Snively says:

    Well written, nice. Epic picture of Jess as well.

  3. Jess says:

    The photographer told us not to smile!

  4. Apart from the content, which is great, the blogs are really popular for two reasons.

    First, is the way blog posts are placed on the home page of the admissions office. Most other colleges have blogs on a separate page, so most people don’t usually notice.

    Second I guess is the kind of candidates MIT attracts, net centric people who enjoy spending time on the internet.

    But at the end of the day, it’s the content that makes me read. Snively’s wit, Chrism’s one liners, and Yan’s oratory, that’s I come back again and again.

    Sometimes I wonder if I’ll keep reading these if I don’t get accepted and go to another college.

  5. BTW, is Tamar Lewin an alum?

  6. cristen says:

    y’all look great in the pic!

    AND OMG I AM THE FIRST WORD IN A NYT ARTICLE :DD This totally beats the NY Sun article I was in. lol.

    By the way did anyone else notice that the ’13s blogs are set up now? YAY~!

  7. ThePlaz '13 says:

    Really cool score admissions office!!! Your open blogging policy really pays off I think – and is a model how being open and not fake about your school (or product, really – this is true in industry) matters.

    I was one of the 25 applicants mentioned smile Closest I’ve been to the NY Times.

    -http://theplaz.com

  8. Keri says:

    YEAHHHH WE’RE IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

    Also, YEAHHHH THE FROSH ARE FINALLY GOING TO START BLOGGING

    It’s a good day.

  9. Tom Leo says:

    Great article! and it made it onto the daily e-mail of NYT headlines under “Technology” – and that’s where I saw the article, and that brought me here. Kudos too on both the open blogging policy, and how blunt the article is that there are other schools that don’t think that would be such a good idea for them.

  10. Anon says:

    Seriously, I don’t think I’ve found any other blogs that have been as open and easy to read & relate to as the MIT blogs. Other schools’ blogs are so cut-and-dried and unhelpful in comparison.

    (:

  11. Quynh says:

    the reason why i’m interested in MIT is because of these blogs…they were the hook for a completely ignorant unknowing high school kid who has now fallen in love w/ such a quirky institution smile
    I LOVE IT!! Thank you so much for these blogs…all of them…because i literally do read all of them

  12. Snively says:

    @Anon*
    Lol, Chris is ALWAYS dressed like that. It’s funny, that’s something that doesn’t come across in the blogs, he dresses in business casual every day.

  13. Anon* says:

    Chris was pretty dressed up..

    Very true.
    Great article and I love MIT!!=)

  14. Olive says:

    I love these blogs smile haha, they should have mentioned the Ben 2.0 conversation in the article raspberry But OMG Luka they quoted you!! How awesome is that?

  15. Christine says:

    I’m a current high school senior, and I LOVE reading these articles!!!
    The blogs seem less intimidating than the list of information like most other schools have on their web sites……
    This is also great way to communicate with the world. :D

  16. Qwerty says:

    Its a big ‘YES’ for the effort……..From Ben who has obviously moved on, to Hamsika’13 who made her first post a week back..it has evolved and got better.
    Sry, digressing from topic a little, whats the status of non traditional undergraduates (age > 25) at MIT?Has there ever been a freshman that old in last , say 5 years??
    Is there anything like being “too old for MIT”?