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March 31, 1996

The Web was his
window to college

By Timothy C. Barmann

Angus M. Davis's college application was a little unusual.

There were the usual trappings - essays and descriptions of his high school course load.

But there also were the family album pictures, the story about how he crashed his mother's car, the recipe for chocolate rum mousse souffle, and even a sound clip of an old Coca-Cola radio commercial.

The senior at Portsmouth Abbey School didn't stuff all that into a huge envelope and send it off to Emory University in Atlanta, where he was applying.

He assembled them into his own electronic "application" to the school in the form of a World Wide Web page (http://www.ids.net/emory/) and posted it on the Internet.

 [A picture from Angus Davis's multimedia application] "There's a little bit of everything in that application," said the computer-wise Providence 18-year-old.

Davis, who taught himself to make Web pages, had already created a popular Web site for fans of a rock group.

Then it occurred to him that in applying to college, the best way to show his Internet skills was to demonstrate them, rather than write about them in an essay, Davis said.

"I think that in any college application, what they're really asking is what are your strengths, what makes you different," he said.

Davis's approach clearly set him apart from others, at least among the other 10,200 students who applied to Emory University last year. His Web application, officially considered an addendum to his written application, was the only one of its kind submitted to the university, according to Scott L. Allen, senior assistant dean of admission.

(Catherine Zeiser, University of Rhode Island assistant dean of admissions, said URI hasn't received any electronic applications, and isn't equipped to view them. Brown University spokeswoman Tracie Sweeney said Brown received about 100 applications from prospective students last fall that referred to personal Web pages, but none was designed as an electronic application.)

In making his "multimedia" application, Davis has put forth the sort of creative energy and research effort you might expect from a professional going after a highly sought-after job.

To get feedback on an essay he wrote as part of his application, he posted it along with his Web page address to several discussion groups on the Internet, including one frequented by psychologists, and another for college admissions counselors.

"I wanted them to tell me what my voice was - conceited, bragging or feeling sorry for myself," said Davis. "In a lot of these essays, you can sound overconfident."

He did get lots of responses by e-mail - about 100, he said. An Oxford professor offered some writing tips. And a psychologist told him he thought one of his essays was a little too personal.

In that essay, Davis explains his "tumultuous" high school career, which landed him in three different schools in four years. He and dozens of other students got into trouble for a long-distance phone-bill scam, which eventually led to his leaving that private Massachusetts high school. He also writes about his parents' separation and a car accident he was involved in.

"I wanted to face up to it all. I don't want to live my life as some big excuse. I was trying to say (to Emory), you get what you see," Davis said.

As odd as it may seem at first glance, including the Coca-Cola radio ad was a subtle way of showing he did his homework. Davis had researched Emory and found that the Atlanta-based soft drink company is deeply entrenched in the university, having endowed it with several million dollars in corporate stock.

Davis tracked down on the Internet a sound clip of an old Coca Cola radio ad and included it on his Web site under a section called "Fun Stuff." There, he refers to it as the "unofficial Emory Development Office theme song."

There's also a story behind the chocolate souffle recipe. Davis said he heard one of the most unusual applicants to Emory last year sent in some sort of dessert with his application.

How did Emory take to Davis's Web page?

"It showed incredible creativity and initiative," said the school's Allen, who immediately remembered Davis's application when asked by a reporter. "It obviously took extra work . . . and relates to us his sincere interest in attending Emory."

Emory accepted Davis in December under its early admission program, and he will begin school in the fall. He's among only 40 percent of the applicants that made it, Allen said.

Davis's Internet skills have also landed him a part-time job at Intelecom Data Systems, a local Internet provider, where he does programming for the Web pages for the company's clients.

"Angus is a very enthusiastic and energetic employee," said IDS president Andy Green. "I consider us extremely lucky to have him."

Looking back at his Web college application, Davis said that although he set out to impress Emory by doing something different, he thinks that what made his application stand out was its content. For that, he said, he's grateful for the help and suggestions he got from the Internet community.

"In the end, the most valuable thing was that all these other people became a part of my application."

Cybertalk's birthday

This column marks the very first birthday of Cybertalk. To highlight its anniversary, the Cybertalk Web site has a new look and some additional features, such as a new reader feedback page and a hypertext computer calender. Stop by the site index.htm to see them or to catch up on any of the past year's columns.

Thanks for reading!


The last Cybertalk column (March 17) reported that Howard Boksenbaum, the Ocean State Free-Net vice president, said the Free-Net may consider evolving into a nonprofit Internet service provider. However, at a steering committee meeting last week, Boksenbaum said no such proposal is being considered.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff photographer. His column runs every other Sunday on the On Line page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.