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Colleges Go Online to Calm the Admissions Jitters

Daniel Creasy, a Johns Hopkins admissions officer, works with senior Michelle Tellock. Besides reading applications, he checks online message boards and writes a blog, answering students' questions and trying to ease their concerns.
Daniel Creasy, a Johns Hopkins admissions officer, works with senior Michelle Tellock. Besides reading applications, he checks online message boards and writes a blog, answering students' questions and trying to ease their concerns. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 24, 2007

Daniel Creasy and the other Johns Hopkins University admissions office staff have to read 200 files a week to get through the 14,840 applications piled on chairs and crates in the hallways. That's 65 percent more applicants than they had just five years ago -- so many, Creasy joked, that he has to get his dog to help read them.

He even posted a photo of his dog, paws planted next to a stack of files, on the Hopkins admissions Web site.

Creasy is trying to lighten things a little and ease some of the anxiety of the application process as the admissions frenzy whips up. With more applicants than ever competing to get into the top schools, students' stress is obvious. It chokes online message boards about college admissions. (One site -- where overachievers crunch numbers, analyze their chances and obsess over scores -- had 17,048 posts about Hopkins alone.)

Now, some schools have staff members like Creasy who not only read files but monitor message boards, field questions on their own Web sites and try to humanize the process.

In charge of Hopkins Insider, "a behind-the-scenes look at the Johns Hopkins Admissions Office," Creasy hopes to take away some of the mystery, correct misinformation here and there, crack some jokes and, occasionally, talk students off the ledge.

"When I got into the field, I was told this is a very secretive field. Not a lot of people know what we do," Creasy said. "I agreed with that." Many in admissions still do. Creasy used to think of himself as an admissions officer, working for the institution to create the strongest possible 1,200-student incoming class. Now, he has far more contact with applicants -- at least electronically -- and knows just how much they're sweating the admissions process.

He's begun to see himself as more of an admissions counselor instead.

"So many applicants think of admissions as this abyss where you toss in an application and never hear what happens to it," said Ben Jones, who helped transform the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's admissions Web site into a percolating conversation among hundreds of students and staff members. "That creates a level of anxiety and stress that is increasing as years go on and admissions become increasingly competitive."

Last month, MIT posted winners of an essay contest about the admissions process. One applicant created animation set to the Zombies' "Time of the Season" with a stick figure waiting by a mailbox in the snow. Another wrote about anxiety, pressure and a classmate who applied to Stanford and hanged himself.

Jeannine C. Lalonde, an assistant dean of admission at the University of Virginia, said: "They picture people in a room with a big 'REJECT' stamp. This makes people realize we're real, we're accessible, we're not scary."

So Creasy blogs. He writes about how many files he has to read, explaining the admissions process, the months of late-night reading and discussion about applicants. He introduces other staffers, giving their backgrounds, favorite animals ("Not a Bushbaby -- those things scare me," one wrote) and admissions pet peeves. (Tip: Don't leave the "s" out of Johns.)

He describes how he works, with a blue binder, glass of water, iPod, calculator and eight -- eight! -- calendars. He adds photos of the stacks of applications and of his niece, crawling along the floor. And he writes such things as: " . . . most of us have dreams (nightmares???) about application files, letters of recommendations, paper/folder cuts, grading scales, aaaaahhhhh!"


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