In Memoriam for Jack Blackburn

I don’t usually indulge in information about the different personalities that populate the admissions profession, but today I make an exception for a true giant in the field. As long time readers already know, Mason was founded as a branch of the University of Virginia, and I received the sad news first thing this morning from our sister institution regarding my good friend, their dean of admissions.

John A. “Jack” Blackburn was the Dean of Admissions at University of Virginia since 1985 and was an associate dean of admissions there for six years before that. Jack was the quintessential gentleman – able to remain professional and polished in the face of any question. He led the charge to professionalize our field, and personally created a significant body of research that remains the basis for nearly every study in admissions. He was a tireless advocate for students, and a role model that inspired many of us to try and be better at reaching towards the best ideals of higher education.

I will deeply miss his sense of humor and wisdom – most of all that pained look of tolerance on his face when I would call his beloved UVA, “our southern campus.” I have never had a better straight man on a panel, nor one that carried more dignity and gravitas into every speaking engagement.

I know his loss is felt acutely by many, and that his work will live on in the lives he touched, too numerous to count. While there are many things I question, I have no doubt that if there is at least one admissions process that is fair and truly based on merit, he is in a far better place. Be seeing you.


An amazing day to be in D.C.

Today was supposed to be the first day of classes for Mason’s spring, 2009 semester, but we decided to cancel classes. One the one hand, getting faculty to classes was going to be difficult with many of the roads in the D.C. area closed, and this gives our students the chance to be part of all the excitement. Over 2,000,000 people are expected down at the national mall. Our faculty are being interviewed by media, and many of our students are braving the cold this morning, and some looking forward to dressing up tonight to attend one of the ten official Inaugural Balls, or the very unofficial ball on campus.

I’ll be reading applications today as I watch the parade and oath of office. Like many of my colleagues, as I read I wonder whether years from now I’ll be watching one of these applicants taking that oath, anchoring the news. So many times during the year I find myself writing (or just ranting) about where the admissions process has gone wrong – the excessive marketing, the impersonal decisions, and on and on. It’s easy to forget the reason most of us are in this job – that we believe in our colleges and universities and the potential of our institutions to help students make a difference. Unfortunately, that won’t ease the pressure for those of you still trying to get your final applications submitted, and the majority of you waiting for decisions. I’ll post some suggestions for easing that pressure, but in the meantime, I hope you all get admitted everywhere you apply, I hope you all get every scholarship you want, (I hope most you pick Mason), and I truly and deeply hope you take advantage of those opportunities to change the world. Be seeing you.

Deadlines: What do they mean, and what if you miss them?

If you thought campaign season advertising, with all the e-mails and phone calls was fun, and if you think the best part of the holiday season was the incessant mailings begging and pleading with you to drop whatever you were doing and shop, then you must be loving deadline season.

By now most you are getting pummeled with e-mail, IM, facebook messages, letters, postcards, automated phone calls, personal phone calls – for all I know you’re also getting singing telegrams for the most aggressive institutions. I’ve been busy with a countdown to our deadline – a message everyday leading up to Mason’s application deadline (which, is January 15th – act now! John Smith of Newton, MA failed to act and misery and sorrow followed him all of his days).

Why all the hype? As usual, a lot of it has to do with marketing. College know that you’re far less likely to enroll if you don’t get your application in by our deadline, even if we admit you – so we encourage, cajole and outright nag to get on your list.

The deadline, however, isn’t jus for show. Generally, colleges and university admission offices read all the applicants in by the deadline as fast as they can. Many institutions will entirely ignore applications received after the deadline, and even if a school will take a late application, the school is likely to be a lot tougher on a late applicant than one received in a timely manner.

Except – when they aren’t. There are a few distinctions to the deadline to consider. Some schools make their deadline a COMPLETE application deadline, meaning everything else, your transcripts and recommendations, for instance, also have to be in by that date. Most others will continue to take new material for your application. You can’t count on that factor, however, since schools will make their decision based on whatever they have at the time.

Other schools will find themselves below their application target. This year there is a lot of noise that the most expensive schools are getting fewer applications (there’s no evidence that it’s true, by the way), and at a minimum the schools with a higher price tag are probably scrambling to get additional applicants just in case you all realize that there are better investments of your time and money (did I mention that Mason was named one of the 50 best values in public education in the U.S., and the only school in the D.C. area on the list?). Anyhow, schools below target will just keep taking applications. Why stop? It’s not like it’s a law or anything.

For most schools that aren’t the very very very most competitive, applications will continue to be quietly accepted regardless of how many they received. To be honest, Mason keeps taking applications for quite a while. Since we’re again seeing a big increase in applications (hey, we WERE named the #1 up and coming school in the U.S. by US News and World Report), I won’t accept many late applicants. If, however, an applicant is a spectacular candidate, there a reasonable chance that I’ll extend an offer of admission, even for a late applicant. The same is true for most universities. They certainly won’t publish that information, and we don’t like to talk about it, but it happens all the time. Watch for a lot of that this year – knowing where the economy is, many schools will except you to get really frustrated by your financial aid and scholarship packages at the expensive schools. Just don’t wait too long – you may not be the only one looking around, and we only have so many spaces.

Again, your best bet by far is to apply well before the deadline. For Mason, that means apply this week. So stop reading and get busy! Be seeing you.

Shameless Plug: Mason one of the 50 best values, and Obama comes to campus to fix the economy

I’ve been so busy reading applications that sometimes I forget to brag about my school in between dispensing a smattering of advice, but this double dose of news was too good to let it pass.

In 2007 presidential hopeful Barack Obama held his first campaign rally at George Mason University’s very own Johnson Center. This morning President-Elect Barack Obama returned to Mason to deliver a major address on the economy and his proposed solutions. And yes, I got to attend and yes, it was very cool, and yes, I brought a few of our students along to see history being made on our campus.

Mason seems like an appropriate place to talk about fixing the economy, since we were announced this morning as one of the 50 best values in higher education by the Princeton Review. You might notice that none of the other D.C. schools made the list, but I thought I’d better mention that, just in case you missed it.

Of course, Mason students have access to speakers pretty much daily that are making headlines, and changing the world…and somehow we deliver all that at this great value. We’re just that good. Be seeing you.

Happy New Year and my favorite blogs

In an attempt to start the New Year off right, a tip o’ the keyboard to some of my fellow bloggers whose musings I read on a very semi-regular basis.

Admissions Blogs
While I realize it’s hard to imagine any other admissions blog being worth your time, there are two I scan periodically. Scott White is a high school counselor and does a superior job researching issues. Jon Boeckensetdt is Associate Vice President at DePaul University and generally offers some of the most reasonable and well written insight on the whole field of admissions.
Scott White’s World and
Jon’s Insights.

I’m often asked for financial aid information and do the best I can, but have to defer to the guru, Mark Kantrowitz. Mark is an engineer by training and brings that outlook to the often convoluted and confusing aid discussion. We both post regularly on, which I’ve found the best place to read his latest insights.

Broader Education
Michael Alison Chandler writes for the Washington Post and has a terrific blog. She’s been spending a year reliving high school math – for any of you that want sympathy (or parents who need to empathize) it’s a great column.

Being the D.C. area I’m a bit of a poltical junkie, and I think Chuck Todd, recently named as White House Correspondent for NBC, to be one of the most straightforward and insightful media figures. Also one of my best friends, but that may be one of his few lapses in judgment. His stuff on the election is here and his newer stuff is there.

Higher Education Policy and Marketing
You’d think these would be different topics, but in the admissions field they all get jumbled together. On the marketing side, Ypulse, led by youth media expert Anastasia Goodstein, is great reading – especially if you want the latest on how Disney will leverage the “Jo Bros” new show, and what you should call “Twilight” fanatics (that would be, “twihards”). If you prefer a more academic analysis of the fields, Tom Mortensen is a well known researcher that has a great feel for what the majors issues are in the field and writes for Postsecondary Opportunity. Elizabeth Scarborough is one of the most brilliant researchers and consultants I’ve met, and does a great job giving colleges advice – so if you want to know what they’re hearing, check out her blog.

Other stuff
Since I have a six year old, my e-mail box is often filled with Spam offering me opportunities to spend money carefully disguised as parenting advice. In the midst of all the junk I stumbled on (not StumbledUpon) a website by a mom that I actually enjoy, and I’ve yet to see an ad!

One of the weirdest connections that has evolved in my work for Mason has been getting to know movie and television producer, writer, director Marshall Herskovitz. Along with trying to save the environment and remake maybe my favorite movie of all time (more on that when he tells the world) he also created the most successful internet TV show to date, and established it alongside an online community designed to support creative and artistic endeavors. Most amazing – if you join and post on his page, he will actually wrte you back! He was the keynote speaker at our summer arts festival here at Mason, where I found the in person Marshall to be even more fascinating than the online version.

A challenging part of working someplace like Mason is the realization that, despite my enormous ego, I’m usually surrounded by people who are WAY smarter than I can ever hope to be. One of my favorite examples is Jim Olds, director of the Krasnow Institute and one of the world’s leading neuroscientists.

OK, enough complimenting other people. Now that it’s out of my system, back to my usual sarcasm and shameless plugs (be sure to check out Mason Metro and don’t miss our January 15 freshman application deadline!!!). Be seeing you, and Happy New Year.