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Admissions blog is a window on MIT

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
Photo / Donna Coveney

As the communications manager for the Admissions Office, Ben Jones shines a light onto a process that can be very dark and stressful.

"I am close enough to the experience of applying to college to remember the stress and how it felt," said Jones, who graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1996.

In his work, Jones reads hundreds and hundreds of high school applications during the fall and early winter. Each student's experience and desire to get into MIT becomes very personal, he said.

"When it's all over, about 13 percent of my top picks are offered admission. I beg, I plead, I make ridiculous promises (just ask the senior staff), but at the end of the day, a committee decision is a committee decision," Jones said in a March posting on his admissions blog, or Internet journal, that lives on the MIT admissions web page.

"I couldn't do this job if I disconnected myself from the human component of it. It's my job to present (the applicant) to the committee; if your dream of being at MIT didn't become my dream on some small level, then really, why am I doing this at all?" Jones said.

In the two years he has been in admissions, personalizing the admissions process has been a huge priority. "I really fall in love with the kids," Jones said.

Through his blog, Jones speaks openly to the applicants and helps give a face to the countless admissions officers evaluating their applications at different institutions.

"Of all the staff blogs, mine is probably the most philosophical," said Jones of the blog that he updates several times a week. He talks about life in admissions, MIT, his feelings and his work -- all in a very public space.

When Jones started at MIT in 2004, he was no stranger to the world of blogging. A musician, Jones has kept a web log about his music since 1997. "I have been blogging since the beginning," he said. It was this firsthand knowledge of how blogging can create community that sparked the idea to further the blog culture at MIT.

The admissions blogs were launched almost as an afterthought, relegated to the lower right-hand corner of the computer screen on the admissions web site. After watching the traffic to the blogs grow exponentially in a few short months, Jones made the decision to move them front and center.

The blogs -- written by admissions officers and current students -- were a perfect vehicle to reach applicants, Jones said. "High school students are accustomed to blogs. They find them more readable and believable than other formats of communication," he said.

The response to his blog surprised even Jones. Often after posting an entry, he would receive hundreds of comments posted to the feedback section. The students veered off topic, said Jones, who enjoyed reading the back and forth discussions that ensued after he posted.

"The online community that forms between applicants is amazing. At my first CPW (Campus Preview Weekend) in 2005, there were packs of kids traveling around together who already knew each other from the blogs," Jones said.

This year an unprecedented number of current students applied to blog about their MIT experiences for hopeful applicants.��

The winning blogger applicants need to have something to say, Jones said.�� But they also need to be familiar with blogging and the time it can take.�� "We say the students can talk about whatever they want as long as they don't offend anyone and it stays relevant to MIT," Jones said.��

MIT's admissions blogging has become such a popular feature that other schools are getting in on the act.�� Jones and Matthew McGann, associate director of admissions, have been asked to speak at a few conferences around the country and to share their experiences with various colleagues at other colleges.

Jones said he does not mind sharing ideas with other schools. "Admissions blogging really helps high school students find the best match between applicant and college, so the more schools that participate, the better," Jones said.�� "Besides, the culture of MIT is to share information."

�� For Jones, it is really all about honesty with the students.�� "I try to be as transparent as possible," he said.

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