When she started blogging under the name Dean J, Jeannine Lalonde was writing under the UVA radar. At her last job, she had talked about doing an admissions blog, but the idea fizzled, seeming unfeasible. Then she came to UVA.
During her first year as an assistant dean of admissions, Lalonde created a blog to document her initial year on the job. But it quickly morphed into a discussion on the admissions process that was geared toward applicants.
Dean Jeannine Lalonde frequently posts pictures of CavDog on her blog, helping personalize a bureaucratic process.
At first, there was little time to devote to it, and even fewer readers. Soon, though, the blog “Notes from Peabody II” began to rack up more hits. It crept up on Google’s search engine. People were discovering the wealth of information and Dean J’s easygoing Web personality, and they quickly latched on to a source of much-needed information about the admissions process at UVA.
On the day UVA’s decisions hit the mail, Lalonde wrote, “I‘ve written this before, but I should repeat it. Waitlist and deny letters are sent in standard, No. 10 envelopes. Admit letters are in slightly larger envelopes, so you will probably know the news inside as soon as you see your mail. Good luck, everyone!”
During the last week of March, when UVA posted admission decisions on prospective students’ online status pages, the blog received 62,592 hits.
“The response has been so overwhelmingly positive,” says Lalonde. “I think [readers] realize that more information is always better in this process.”
The stress of the admission process takes its toll on both prospective students and admissions officers. A quick look at Lalonde’s blog is a glimpse into those few months when the world seems to revolve around the decisions made by a few faceless officers. But for students like Divya Bezwada, who will be coming to UVA in the fall, the blog humanized both sides of the process.
“If it wasn’t for the blog and Dean J, I would not be going to UVA,” says Bezwada, who first visited the University on a muggy summer day. “I had a really bad first impression of the college. Out of all the colleges I applied to, it was last on my list.”
But her thinking changed, in large part because of Lalonde and her blog.
“It provides a bit of sanity to the admissions process,” says Bezwada. “It really did influence me.”
Lalonde started the admissions blog on her own, but UVA has since officially blessed it by linking to it from the undergraduate admissions webpage and at the bottom of each prospective student’s status page. There is information about admissions mechanics, but Lalonde offers overstressed readers other avenues, if only to take their minds off the pending, life-changing decision.
Along with shopping tips and life-at-UVA info, she regularly posts pictures of CavDog (otherwise known as Baxter outside of the blogosphere). During the most recent “Days on the Lawn,” when admitted high school students get to play UVA student for a day, Baxter was something of a celebrity. As was Lalonde.
She laughs at the idea. “That’s what they say. …I’m not entirely comfortable about that. It makes me nervous. I’m not that important.”
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