Diary of a college freshman: now accessible online
During her first week at Furman University last semester, Amber Kirtley enrolled in a cardio-kickboxing class to avoid the dreaded "Freshman 15." After one intense class, she discovered that yoga was more her speed.Skip to next paragraph
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For her humanities class, she was a little nervous about reading the "Epic of Gilgamesh" because she didn't understand the book's title. And, oh, she's just a little peeved about the shortage of parking on campus.
Anyone would know these details about Amber's life if they clicked on her biweekly journal at engagefurman.com. The freshman from Maryville, Tenn., is one of six Furman students who write journals about their first-year experiences. "I'm trying to convey the ups and downs of college," says Ms. Kirtley, now known as Journal Girl. "I'm trying to be real, and I hope that comes across."
Increasingly, colleges across the United States are turning to online student diaries as a way to recruit prospective students. The idea is simple: Supply the budding authors with a digital camera and let them write about their freshman year as it's happening. The approach seems to be working. At Furman, about 30,000 people, from alumni to parents and high school students, read it every week. Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y., reports that its journals are the most heavily viewed pages. From a school's point of view, it gives readers a better idea of what campus is like, and so might spark interest in a school visit.
"It's a trend, and more and more institutions are finding the need to present their schools not just through marketing materials, but also by showing real student experiences," says Jim Shaynak, senior associate director of admissions at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.
Since Mr. Shaynak started The Year in the Life diaries three years ago (yearinthelife.bucknell.edu), the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Although it is a marketing tactic, "it's not some watered-down version that is fixed or changed by admissions. We do our best not to apply a marketing admissions theme to the students' stories. But the students are up on Bucknell, so they are going to be good promoters."
There's certainly nothing new about student blogs - there are millions of them floating in cyberspace. What separates these online journals from the rest of the pack is that they are university sponsored and featured prominently on a school's admissions pages. These journals are photo heavy and focus on a few events every few weeks. But one has to ask - how real are these journals? And are they simply mouthpieces for the school?
"A kid who is going to see this diary is going to approach it with a healthy skepticism," says Paul Marthers, dean of admissions at Reed College in Portland, Ore., who is still weighing the pros and cons of a school-sponsored online journal. Some of the difficulties, says Mr. Marthers, are choosing the right people to represent the school, deciding whether or not the diaries are a passing fad, and whether prospective students are going to assume freshmen were "coached" on what to write.
Some writers, in fact, do tend to play the role of cheerleader for their school. But these are the types of students administrators want writing for their sites, not someone disengaged in campus life. Many belong to sororities or fraternities and participate in other activities such as band, sports, and various clubs, and are upbeat about their schools.