Really, Stanford Admissions?

Oct. 2, 2010, 11:43 a.m.

Stanford admissions can learn a lot from the way MIT handles the pre-freshman experience. MIT admissions has a good thing going with their blogs, an uncensored look at the lives of undergraduates, graduate students, admissions counselors, and even a professor (!) about the ups and downs of MIT life. At the top are just about 80 descriptive, specific, colorful links about admissions, financial aid, education, and the spirit of the school, and the interface is clean and modern. Compare this to the more traditional layout of Stanford’s site. The number of links at the top in the tabbed options pale in comparison—just about 25—and although they share content with the MIT links, there is a lot more specificity in the latter. One example: on the subject of what both schools are looking for in applicants (Stanford. MIT.), our school begins blandly with: “As we review applications, several ideas guide our work…” and talk vaguely about terms such as “Academic Experience,” “Intellectual Vitality” and “Personal  Context.” Compare this to the MIT model of the equivalent page:

After you click the submit button, it’s easy to feel as though your application has entered a black hole – what really happens between when you apply and when you receive your decision? We understand that not knowing the details can add a lot of stress to the waiting period, so we’re happy to shed some light into that black hole.

What a way to reassure a nervous 18 year old! And here’s the kicker—about half a dozen paragraphs down:

As we go through this process together, Dave, Matt, Kim, Quinton, Mikey, Stu, and others will do our best to keep you updated on the selection of MIT’s next class. You’ll find our recent updates and stories in the blog entries to your left.

The once daunting, nameless, faceless administrators in charge of admissions at a world-class university suddenly have lives. They have families and pets and faces. You can read their poignant entries on having to reject the best of the best, and how their sons/daughters face admissions (Quinton especially has a cool entry about helping his cousin with her college process).

I’m not holding up MIT admissions as the high watermark of all human achievement. But really, Stanford? All that’s present on your website is some pretty stock pictures and paltry links, and a professionally edited video that hasn’t changed for the last two or three years. Stanford isn’t alone in universities using outdated digital models of an admissions website. Community involvement, smart human-website interaction, and relevant, specific links from the admissions department would transform the site from pleasant and vague to a digital community around those interested in attending this spectacular school.

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