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Welcome Home by Chris Peterson SM '13

Like what we've done with the place?

My office is currently under serious reconstruction. New walls, new doors, new carpets, new paint, and everything. Mikey’s gone on vacation, so, unbeknownst to him, I’m commandeered his office, kicked out on his couch, and put my feet up on his desk.

The downside, I guess, is that I no longer have my protein shakes and favorite notes from applicants within arms reach and eyesight, respectively.

On the other hand, it’s pretty comfortable right here, and the space is more well-designed and welcoming. I’ve only been in here a few minutes, but already I know I could definitely get used to this.

Hopefully, you feel the same way about the new website we’ve launched today.

Our “old” site, which was launched by our much beloved former Communications Director Ben Jones in 2004, was a legendary, landmark effort. Ben’s central use of blogs to speak honestly and frequently with prospective students revolutionized the admissions communications industry. We’ve been proud, and grateful, to call it our home for the past 7 years.

 


 

But, just as Ben’s blogs often noted, all things must evolve and grow over time.

Well over a year ago, Matt asked the communications team to begin thinking about developing a new MIT Admissions website. This isn’t an easy task. We are deeply invested in our website. When you have a good thing going, in can be difficult to motivate yourself to rethink what makes it good, and even more difficult to force yourself to risk playing the alchemist and trying to cook things up to make it even better.

But this is MIT. We wouldn’t be who we are if we were afraid to get our hands dirty, to move fast and break things, and to try for something really awesome.

I think we’ve done it. And I hope you feel the same way.

With that said, let me give you a little tour of the new website, focusing on three themes: simplicity, accessibility, and transparency.

 


 

The first thing you will likely notice is that we’ve drastically simplified the site. We’ve reduced twelve navigational buttons to five, and transitioned from over 100 secondary navigational links to just over 20.

This was one of the most difficult things to do. Over time, the old site had accumulated dozens and dozens of beloved pages, like the family attic storing years and years of toys and photo albums. At some point, though, the floorboards began to creak; we realized that there were so many pages and options on the new site that it had become difficult to navigate them all! In behavioral economics, this is known as the paradox of choice: too many options can introduce cognitive costs that exceed the marginal benefit of their inclusion.

However, we didn’t want to simply delete everything and start afresh. Even if 80% of people didn’t use all of the extra stuff we had on the site, those 20% who did REALLY LOVED IT. We had a duty to our readers to come up with a way to offer just as much content as the old site did, but in a way that was less architecturally intimidating to encounter.

We think we’ve found a way: the MIT Admissions Wiki.

 


 

The Wiki is the new home for all of the miscellanea we’d like to offer prospective students but couldn’t include in the new, streamlined site navigation. We’re slowly rolling out editing rights to the MIT community. Just as the blogs have, over time, become an authoritative source of MIT student culture, we hope that the Wiki will happily accumulate all of the information about MIT that its community could ever wish to provide, and that prospective students could ever wish to discover.

That brings me to the blogs. You’ll notice some immediate changes to the blogs – new, hand-drawn avatars; new profile page layouts; and some new (if subtle) post production and editing functionalities.

But my favorite thing about the new redesign is our new feature at the bottom of almost every page: the “Best of the Blogs.”

The MIT Admissions blogs grew slow and steady, like a coral reef of content; bloggers depositing individual bit of wisdom for the better part of a decade, until it was almost 4000 entries strong, deep and dense. But, as with an iceberg, only a small portion – the ten most recent entries on the homepage – was ever clearly visible to new visitors, who had no way to easily and serendipitously encounter the incredible wealth of wisdom beneath their feet.

 


 

“Best of the Blogs” changes all that. Admissions staff and bloggers have combed through every entry ever made and handpicked a few – less than 5%! – that are exceptionally excellent. These entries load randomly into the grid at the bottom of pages, so that new visitors can stumble upon terrific older entries that they otherwise would never have known existed. We’re incredibly excited about this feature, and believe that it will do for blog entries what the Wiki will do for the overall community.

We’ve also labored to make our process and statistics as transparent as possible. Veterans of the old site will recall that we have, for years, published admission statistics and class profiles that far exceed information released by the admissions office of almost any other university. With this site, we’ve taken the dramatic step of doing the same for our Financial Aid office, not only with an overview of our financial aid philosophy but also with discrete sample cost and aid packages.

Under the “Apply” heading we’ve also launched an entirely new navigational design called the “stepthrough”:

 


 

By clicking the arrows on the page, or by descending vertically through the navigational bar on the left hand side, students will be able to chronologically “step through” the admissions process chunk by chunk. We think this will help prospective students think more linearly and clearly about the admissions process. And we think it will be especially helpful for our international and transfer applicants in helping them understand how our process works for them. We’re also continuing to provide unparalled insight into how we make admissions decisions and what we look for in students.

So: three principles – simplicity, accessibility, transparency – have guided our design and development of this new site. We’re very happy with it, and we hope you will be too.

Of course, we’re not done thinking of ways to make things even better. We’ve already got some things in the pipeline (sexy new search, comment meta-moderation, foreign language support, etc) to add and tweak ASAP. And we’re always looking for additional ideas, insights, and inspirations from all of you.

So please – check out the new digs. Invite your friends. Kick the tires and let us know what you think. Because in the end, everything we do here is for all of you.

Enjoy!

34 responses to “Welcome Home”

  1. Snively says:

    I think the biggest question we all have is, does the website finally remember personal information when leaving comments?

  2. Snively says:

    OH MY GOD, IT DOES!

  3. Dimitris says:

    well done! awesome site and it remembers personal info! even better!

  4. Sachi says:

    Wow! Love the new look! If I ever get into MIT, I think I’ll apply to become a student blogger just (oh well, one of the reasons) to get my personal blogger sketch made. : )

  5. The new website looks really streamlined. Cool stuff.
    I noticed that the comments no longer have timestamps… Well, now nobody will know that I visit the MITBlog at 2am instead of studying :p

  6. Dior says:

    The site is extremely clean, I also really like the hand-drawn avatars. Any idea what program was used for this?

  7. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    Used for what, Dior?

  8. rfong'12 says:

    fantastic job with everything smile

    i’m going to have to post a lot more now in vain pursuit of my vain goal to always be on the front page. very sneaky, chris.

  9. Anthony says:

    The shading on the top bar annoys me a bit. I guess I just prefer 2D-looking websites. Haha. I also rather liked the dome up top… even if it didn’t serve much functional purpose.

    But the new simplified layout is nice. So is “best of the blogs” — I definitely just spent the past half hour browsing old ones.

  10. Peter says:

    omg..thats awesome…its brilliant..now having seen the video makes me want to go to MIT even more….hoping I will make it to MIT grad school since I didnt get in for undergraduate smile

  11. '12 says:

    Man, that brings back memories. Watched the video at a prefrosh party in ’08. Still describes MIT perfectly.

  12. Darthur says:

    Nice work all. Admissions still has one of the nicest sites on mitnet. The changes look sweet. Also that video is awesome. Now, can you admit a student to come to MIT and fix the student services/account management website?

  13. Hema.T says:

    Hi Chris,
    the site looks great & so simple, the hand-drawn avatars are the best.
    there is a weird thing about it & i thought you should know, some of the old entries made by blogger alum seem to be cut or incomplete & sometimes doesn’t make any sense, I’m saying that because as suggested from the current bloggers that we should read those old entries to get know MIT & student life better, and a couple of weeks ago I started to read it, today I’ve noticed this cut in those entries. not a big deal but excellent job on the redesign. smile

  14. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    Hey Hema – could you link me?

  15. Anthony says:

    https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/awesome_diva_adventures — end of second paragraph and after “MIT Educational Studies Program”. Not sure if this is a problem with the new site, or the specific blog, or my browser, or if it’s even the same problem Hema noticed, but I figured I’d point it out.

  16. Cosmos says:

    Awesome! Love it!

  17. 刘刚 says:

    是的,我学习很差,但是这并不影响我去麻省学习,我想去那学习,有什么办法么?

  18. Piper '13 says:

    @Dior – The program used as a real, live human being smile

  19. Royal Flyness says:

    dis is awesome. great job

  20. Henry says:

    ehh, am I in the minority here to honestly say the new look is a step down from the old look. The old looks felt much more , hard to phrases it, but “comfortabe” and visually appealing than this version. Ths new one looks like it was put together in a hurry

  21. Dior says:

    @Chris Used to generate the avatar-sketches

  22. Hakker says:

    Love it! OMG this is just awesome, can’t wait to look around the new site. MIT just became my new homepage lol.

  23. Kim says:

    Honestly, I like the old layout of the MIT Admissions website. Although the number of navigational links were overwhelming on the home page, it was all accessible on the homepage. Now there’s a new site that most visitors won’t be aware of unless they skim for the wiki link. Beforehand, most of the options, if not all, were on the top. Plus, it was more colorful although that isn’t of high significance. On the other hand, the new “Best of the Blogs” feature definitely makes up for it! I wouldn’t say this new layout makes or breaks my life, but it doesn’t hurt to have a change.

  24. Trevor says:

    This is super-amazing. But I do agree that maybe there should be a more prominent wiki link.

  25. Bhaskar says:

    @Chris this is seriously good…Now I guess why you were asking for filling up the survey form for more ideas….wooohooo

  26. Can I give it a -1? I really loved the old header…. That one one of the things that made me want to come to MIT – you could actually find stuff on their site. Now they have made it much harder t find things. Some of the other changes like best blogs and the step through are nice however and I love that they are using a wiki. Keep the rest of the site, just revert to the comprehensive header. Ok perhaps a 0 instead of a -1.

  27. Harley W. says:

    I love the new site! I did like the old header, but I’m sure this one is going to me much easier to use. Like some other commenters, I’ve noticed that some blogs do seem to be cut off. I know for a fact that several of Sam M.’s posts have been cut short. The link to his posts is as follows, take a look: https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/author/Sam/archives

  28. VJ says:

    But I loved the old site !!!

  29. Gavin West says:

    Chris — if you’re actually reading _all_ the comments, I’d like to bring something to your attention…
    (short story time)

    I came here a few months ago when the old site was still up, and while perusing a page I noticed a sentence at the bottom that said something along the lines of “We here at MIT try to be as open and truthful as possible — if you have a question, just ask.” That really struck me in a good way, it was kinda like the cornerstone in my attraction to MIT’s philosophy.

    Looking through now, I don’t see that sentence, or anything like it, anywhere. If it’s not fitting to put in anywhere that’s understandable, but I feel that it should be around here somewhere. It really made the MIT atmosphere more comfortable when I came for Splash last November, and I think about it every time I have a question for an admissions counsler or student.

    So yeah just wanted to bring that to your attention.

  30. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    Hi Gavin –

    What you are looking for is in the same space on the same page, which is now just in a different place smile

    https://mitadmissions.org/apply/process/selection

  31. anon says:

    I don’t know but i had become too habitual of the Old site….Don’t know how to say this but this new look feels like a Comic book to me a bit bland and lacks the sincerity of the old site…
    I hope you people have a better reason for doing this than just to change it to a new look….

  32. Kate T says:

    I liked the old site 🙁 I don’t know, it felt much more… friendly. I miss the old colors up top.
    Even though the look has changed, I still think MIT admissions has done a fantastic job with this website over the years. MIT at first sounded like a scary and hardcore place (and I guess it is at times, with p-sets), but this site really makes it seem approachable and an awesome place to live and study. Most other colleges have terrible sites that don’t tell you any information at all, and you can’t get a feel for the school. So thank you! smile

  33. leandro de jorge nunes lima says:

    wow! that`s taste and yumi!!!!!!

  34. Nupur says:

    hi.. Are there any kind of non credit summer courses for high school students staying in India?
    Because after passing my 12th grade next year, i was planning to attend the NSLC in USA next summer. so i was just wondering if MIT provides such courses?