The Sweet 16, Admissions Web Pages Version

(Our colleague Eric Hoover took pity on Tweed Madness and agreed to handicap the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament from the standpoint of a guy who reports on college admissions. The opinions expressed below are solely his and cannot possibly be less valuable than the ones we offered last week.)

OK, I’ll admit it: I spend a lot of time looking at Web sites. No, no, not those kinds of Web sites! I’m talking about the Web sites for college admissions offices. Many of them are as tame as they are similar, as if the same sedated bunch of art directors, writers, and marketing gurus all got together and decided to bore us.

First, with cheesy photos. Whoa, you’ve got big, gorgeous trees on your campus? Let me guess: Students sometimes lean up against them while reading? Ha, I knew it!

And then there are all those lame slogans: “Your Journey Starts Here.” Yeah, my nap starts here. “Invent Tomorrow.” I’m going to need a hearty breakfast first. “An Education With Real-World Results.” OK, but I’m really in the market for fantasy-world results …

I digress. In the spirit of this glorious season of college hoops, I decided to pick my Sweet 16 winners based on nothing more than my brief assessment of each institution’s admissions Web page. After three cups of coffee, I went looking for verve, spirit, maybe something deliciously weird—or patently stupid. Or both. Then, I picked the winner.

Is this a meaningful way to evaluate basketball teams or colleges? No. Is this meant to be silly exercise? Yes.

Ohio State vs. Kentucky: Ohio State’s epic “What It Means to Be a Buckeye” video is long on self-directed superlatives, but it does much to convey the school spirit that OSU folks are always talking about. The many photos of students spelling out O-H-I-O all over the world (with help from an elephant in one pic) are cool, too. It’s cooler than Kentucky’s “See Blue” campaign, which invites every student to become a “VIP” by filling in their information online (can everyone be a VIP?). I did like the refreshingly low-fi homemade video in which a student from India admits that when he first heard of the U of K, he thought of KFC. Ha! Pick: Ohio State.

Marquette vs. North Carolina: Marquette’s admissions Web page includes all the usual stuff, but this week it also featured a magazine article about a student who’s trying to become a curling champion (you know, that ice sport with the brooms). For these glimpses of living, breathing students, I give Marquette the nod over UNC, whose page includes a testimonial from a student who says, “Everyone at Carolina has a thirst for knowledge.” Unquenchable, you might say. Pick: Marquette.

Kansas vs. Richmond: Kansas offers a high-voltage re-mix of its “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” chant in a video that shows, in the span of 30 seconds, all the following: members of the marching band marching; a student working with clay; students doing something or other in a laboratory; students rowing like mad; a medical student tending to a newborn baby in a hospital; student actors engaging in some furious swordplay onstage; and students building race cars and then racing race cars. Rousing? Yep. But it’s probably not as important as Richmond’s online feature about a specific multidisciplinary management course that takes students abroad each year, just one of several features that provide specific glimpses of what specific students are doing with their specific lives. Pick: Richmond.

UConn vs. San Diego State: Well, UConn’s main admissions page is not very sexy. In fact, it’s got as much text on it as the front page of The Chronicle. Nonetheless, the blogs written by students and admissions officers are pretty good, like the one by Stephanie, who’s studying in Granada, Spain (she explains the university’s study-abroad program quite well, and loads up her page with groovy photographs). San Diego State takes what you might call a minimalist approach, and seems to find beauty in bullet points. “Did you know,” a blurb states, that San Diego State is “the first university in the world to be included in the widely popular Google Maps feature”? I did not. Please, please, tell me more …! Pick: UConn.

Virginia Commonwealth vs. Florida State: VCU offers student testimonials like most colleges, but it also includes copies of real students’ daily schedules—when they go to class, when they study, and when they nap. I can imagine this visual aid helping prospective students, who often have trouble imagining what their schedules will look like in college. FSU’s portal has more candle-power, with video greetings from the president and a slew of students, including one young woman who says the university “is academically challenging, but not too pretentious.” Pick: VCU.

BYU vs. Florida: Florida promises that if you’re admitted, you don’t just become a student, “you become a Gator.” Enlightenment and transmogrification? Awesome! Alas, my selection committee must deduct points for the front-and-center mention of the university’s top-20 ranking by U.S. News & World Report (I’ve never heard of that publication; have you?). BYU has the edge with its helpful “Admissions Fireside” video, not to mention an excellent clip of the “World’s Largest Water Balloon Fight,” which took place on the campus last year. Splat! Pick: BYU.

Butler vs. Wisconsin: I enjoyed using the “Ask Blue” feature to pose a question to Butler’s Bulldog, many of which he could answer (like,“Why are you so cute?”), and some he could not (like, “Why can’t my alma mater’s basketball team be one-eighth as good as yours?”). Wisconsin’s page includes some solid offerings from student bloggers, and it also heads off concerns about Madison’s weather with a blurb celebrating … “all four seasons.” That’s right, kids. You won’t just get two there like you would at Minnesota. Pick: Butler.

Duke vs. Arizona: Duke’s otherwise engaging slideshow of campus landmarks loses points for including shots of “K-ville,” the tent city of diehard hoops fans camping out before games (really, is there anyone on earth suffering from too little exposure to those long-romanticized “Cameron Crazies”?). Arizona delivers an intimate video segment highlighting “Arizona Days and Arizona Nights,” starring a student-athlete who describes her rigorous schedule, which includes classes and swimming practice. If you’re impressed by that sort of thing, you’ll like it. If you’re not, perhaps you’ll like that she’s, um, wearing a bathing suit. Pick: Arizona.

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