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May 6, 2008

Admissions blog sweetens college application process

Libby Pearson tries to personalize a process high school students often find daunting: navigating a college application. As assistant director of admissions, Pearson writes a blog for prospective students that showcases a side of the University not always presented in recruiting brochures.

Pearson’s Uncommon Blog features photos of talking dinosaur skeletons and Q&As about the admissions process, and serves as a forum for student comments and questions.

Launched in 2005, the Uncommon Blog is partly modeled on a similar project started by the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, Pearson said. While the blog was initially maintained by Pearson and fellow admissions counselor Jerry Doyle, it has grown to feature contributions from other admissions staff.

Pearson said that the blog is the most cost-effective and accessible form of admissions recruitment. Postal mail publications and e-mails have high postage costs and take time to develop, and prospective students must grapple with the deluge of material from other colleges, she said. With the blog, prospective students can search on their own time.

“[Students] treat it as a bulletin board to talk to each other before they have even applied,” she said. “It serves as a way to communicate without e-mailing [prospective students] all the time and hassling them.”

Pearson said that she takes personal pride in maintaining the blog and added that she keeps content updated by posting frequently. She said that she enjoys “the reaction when [prospective students] see a post they like.”

Open interaction between admissions officers and students is the blog’s hallmark, Pearson said. She remembers having deleted only one profanity-laced comment since the blog’s launch three years ago.

“We’ve always been very liberal about comments,” she said, “even if they say something negative about the University.”

The blog often features photo montages of the campus. One includes a photo of Pearson ringing the doorbell of President Robert Zimmer’s house before fleeing, although Pearson admitted that she “just mimed doing it.”

Light-hearted blog entries were “a response to the postings by the prospective students,” Pearson said. She added that websites such as “icanhascheezburger.com,” which features pictures of cats with quotations in instant messaging jargon, influenced the blog’s content.

“It represents the personalities of the counselors,” Pearson said.

The blog’s original fans now have opportunities to contribute content in return.

Pearson said that two current undergraduates who contributed to the blog as prospective students now help maintain the blog’s content. She added that student bloggers contribute different perspectives on the admissions process, and she hopes to incorporate more student input in the future.

Pearson began working with the admissions office as a web developer during her time in the College and said that she experienced a smooth transition from her college life to her working life.

“I could still be in Chicago and with the University and still be in education,” Pearson said.

In addition to maintaining the blog, Pearson oversees University recruitment for the West coast.

Pearson will leave the admissions office in September to attend the University’s Harris School of Public Policy. She said that she envisions herself working for a think tank or in a government position.

Although Pearson plans on continuing her education, her brainchild, because of its success, will continue amusing and informing future generations of applicants to the College, she said.

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