dePonty Katie dePonty

Admission officers live to communicate. They write letters, they e-mail, they call prospective and admitted students. They visit with students at college fairs across the country. But “traditional” methods of communication are no longer enough. Students want feedback, words of wisdom and often something just to make them smile.

And they want it now.

Facebook, Twitter and blogs fill the void.

“Students talk to us, submit their application and then — wait,” said admission officer Cate van Oppen ’08.

To those students in limbo in early March, van Oppen and Philip “P.J.” Petrone, associate director of admission for the California regional office, blogged these words of encouragement:

“OK, so we know it is tough to wait! Really tough! We know that you are sitting there, anxiously awaiting your admission decisions from colleges around the country. In an effort to make that waiting go faster (and possibly reduce nail-biting), the folks in our office have compiled a list of songs for you to wait by. Enjoy!”

Among their “songs to wait by”:

“Blowin’ in the Wind,” by Bob Dylan
“Don’t Rain on My Parade,” by Glee Cast
“Don’t Stop Believin,’” by Journey
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” by Bobby McFerrin
“Waiting on the World to Change,” by John Mayer

“I like how fresh blogging can be and how dynamic,” said van Oppen. “We have to keep in mind our professional voices and the college’s voice, but it’s also much less formal than what we put in traditional communications. Blogs are a conversation.”

van Oppen Cate van Oppen

Blogging, Facebook and Twitter content also reach students where they are, she said. “Prospective students spend more and more time online whether it’s on Facebook or just surfing around.” Using these social media tools “is an easy way to make our content and message accessible to a lot of people.

“The blogs also make our office more approachable. We can demystify the admission process a little for students really nervous about getting into college,” she said. They want to know answers to their questions, and many of them have the same questions.

Recent blogs by Katie DePonty, assistant director of admission, have provided answers to some of their questions. She has shared tips for a successful visit to a college fair, top five questions for juniors to ask when visiting college, and advice about how to make your essay stand out from thousands of others — “Do risk sharing something important to you; it will pay off in the end.”

Admission officers also blog about good news: “Whitties win Watsons!”

And they provide information and insight about living on the campus and in the community: “Gems in Walla Walla” spotlighted favorite restaurants, local attractions and scenic drives. This fall, the admission office plans to add student blogs to the mix to provide prospective students even more insight about what it’s like to be a part of the Whitman and Walla Walla communities.

“The nice thing about blogs and Facebook is that students seek it out,” van Oppen said. Prospective students receive so much e-mail, not all solicited, and it can be a game for them to sort out what’s what. “With Facebook, they’ve said, ‘Yes, I’d like to receive that.’ It narrows our audience considerably.”

Admission officers also use e-mail on a regular basis to communicate, but that’s not always effective for “students who haven’t had to use e-mail on a regular basis like we do for work and personal communication,” van Oppen said. “Their personal communication is in a different sphere. E-mail is easy to ignore. Even if they check their e-mail boxes, they don’t have to open the e-mail. If they log into Facebook, the news feed is there.” Admission officers use the site to invite students to Whitman events in their communities or alert them to a new blog entry or Web site story — “to keep Whitman in students’ minds.”

“I think it’s a very dynamic space, and we’re only seeing the beginning of where it’s going. It will be really fun to adapt with it as the tools and nature of social media change,” van Oppen said.

She and her fellow admission officers already are having fun with blogging. Students loved the “songs to wait by” so much that van Oppen blogged this follow-up message to admitted students in late March:

“Congratulations on your admission to Whitman College! Since our “Songs to Wait By” entry was such a hit, I thought I’d compile a list of songs to celebrate with. Here you go!”

She kicked off the list with the YouTube video of “I’ve got a Golden Ticket!” (Grandpa and Charlie’s joyous dance from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” 1971), then shared these and other “songs to celebrate with”:

“Dancing in the Street,” by Martha and the Vandellas
“Twist and Shout,” by The Beatles

And, of course,
“We are Family,” — by Sister Sledge.

Whitman admission officers’ blogs are a fun and informative read. Check them out here.