Ten years after Ben Jones, former director of communications at MIT, and Matt McGann, current director of admissions at MIT, first conceived of using uncensored, student-generated content on the homepage of the undergraduate admissions website, the MIT Admissions Office celebrates an unparalleled decade of student blogging.
Earlier last month, admissions staff invited blogger alumni from the previous 10 years to write a new blog post about where they have been since graduating from the Institute.
“These are, in my opinion, some of the best blogs that have ever been written for MIT Admissions," says Chris Peterson, assistant director of admissions. “If I could assign reading to prospective students like I can assign it to my students, I would have any serious applicant read all of these. I feel like I have learned so much — about MIT, about myself — by doing so.”
Ben Jones, now vice president for communications at Oberlin College, was the first to post, with his "50 Reflections," a spinoff from his 2006 post, "50 Things," a post that still gets the most traffic of any entry ever written on the MIT blogs.
“Matt McGann was my partner in crime throughout the genesis and early evolution of the blogs program. MIT was the first, so this was all new territory with no road map to follow,” wrote Jones. “I think MIT can take much of the credit for the shift we've seen on the national Higher Ed recruitment landscape in the last decade, away from engineered messaging and towards transparency and authenticity.”
Transparency has remained a hallmark of the admissions blogs over the years, attracting media attention on the front page of The New York Times and, more recently, Boston’s NPR branch for a student blog post that sparked a positive campus-wide discussion on stress at MIT.
The communication and recruitment strategy in the office relies on transparency and often utilizes the blogs, which are culled into a “Best of the Blogs” printed booklet. This is sent to prospective students early in spring as their first introduction to life as an MIT student. The office also uses quotes from bloggers in the fact sheet that admissions counselors disseminate to students at school visits in the fall, and the blogs are featured throughout the presentation that is used at MIT’s recruitment Info sessions across the country.
“Students tell us all the time just how much the MIT Admissions blogs meant to them when they were applying to colleges," says Kris Guay, communications manager. “They read them while in high school and continue to read them as a college student. That’s powerful content we want to use to tell the MIT story.”
Some interesting facts about the blogs over the years from looking at the data:
- In 10 years, MIT Admissions bloggers published 4,640 posts, totaling approximately 3.2 million words.
- Since August 2009, 4,640 posts have been viewed approximately 7.2 million unique times.
- Over the last decade, more than 19,000 different users have left more than 108,000 comments.
- The most commented entries are consistently the open threads posted during Early Action and Regular Action decision time, and these can receive hundreds of comments.
- The blogs have received more than 51,000 "engagements" (sum of total shares and total comments upon shared links) on Facebook.
Over the summer, 63 incoming freshman and current students applied for six open slots to become paid admissions bloggers during their years as an undergraduate student at MIT. Students were asked to submit writing samples and show evidence of blogging ability.
“We look for students with an interesting perspective and voice who will be active in contributing to the blogs, usually by writing long form prose, but not exclusively,” says Guay. “We also want students who are comfortable using media and sharing content via other platforms, such as Soundcloud, Instagram, and Tumblr.”
In addition to taking the time to reflect on the past 10 years and celebrate the success of the blogs, MIT Admissions staff is also starting discussions about the future and looking towards the next evolution of student blogging.
“I would be lying if I weren't concerned about how we continue to help current MIT students tell their stories to prospective MIT students,” says Peterson. “The problem, as I see it, is whether or not the audience will continue to be there, and whether that audience will just be the people who already know and love MIT, or whether we can continue to help reach out and introduce well-matched students to MIT.”
The 10-year anniversary celebration of the blogs will culminate this September with an off-campus party for the current student bloggers who will be returning to campus, as well the new bloggers who will be joining the group this fall.