Colleges get a new handle on students

Admissions staff see another side of applicants in e-mail names like 'Ipitydafoo' and 'Sexwaxman,' but they don't read too much into them.

March 26, 2000|By albany times union

To all eyes, Kent Vander Wal is a model student. He scored 1,300 on his Scholastic Assessment Test, jammed his schedule with Advance Placement courses and ranked 14th in his high school class.

Then there's the matter of his e-mail name: "Sellthekidsforfood." It wouldn't matter much, except the name was on Kent's online application to Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.

The Internet has introduced an unexpected element of whimsy to the world of college admissions. In addition to ranks, scores, essays wishing for world peace and deep thoughts about the millennium, colleges now learn that applicants like to be called "Crazyclown," "Shagm" and "Ipitydafoo."

"You can picture it: Some of these kids got an America Online account as a sophomore. There were too many Malcolms or Danielles and they got this handle that's adolescent and a little brash," says Dan Lundquist, vice president of admissions at Union College. "Then, all of the sudden, they're a senior trying to have a dignified discussion with an admissions director -- [using] the name 'Sexwaxman.'"

Most students, like "Sexwaxman" (named after a popular brand of surfboard wax), react sheepishly when asked about their online identities, Lundquist says. "Zipdude," another prospect, went to great lengths to convince Lundquist that he would change his e-mail address immediately and that he was a serious student.

Vander Wal makes no such apologies. "Sellthekidsforfood" loudly proclaims his "differentness," he says.

After all, Vander Wal is known for a van plastered with rock bumper stickers that has become something of a "town artifact" and for his strange passion for sledding in tow behind cars.

The Internet name comes from lyrics in the song "In Bloom" by the band Nirvana.

They were just kids complaining about money, he says. Vander Wal, a top student and football player, isn't worried that college admissions staff will misconstrue his meaning.

"If they don't understand, that's their problem," he says. "I am who I am."

For the record, having an over-the-top e-mail address will not kill your chances of getting into college, at least at Union College. Admissions staff pay far more attention to essays, which tend to reveal a student's character and history, Lundquist says.

Over the years, Lundquist has found the best students are willing to take risks. One recent candidate from Suffolk County, Long Island, got an almost perfect score on her college boards, speaks several languages and acts like she's "17 going on 30," Lundquist says.

The student likes to be called "Xmassox."

"That's an adorable little insight," says Lundquist, who is now in his third grueling month of reviewing applications.

The power of risk wasn't lost on Tyson Hubbard. His e-mail handle, "Ipitydafoo," came to him three years ago when he saw "Rocky III" star Mr. T on cable. "He kept on saying 'I pity the fool,' and I just thought it was hilarious," says Hubbard, of Auburn, N.Y.

But when it came time to apply for college, Hubbard wondered if it didn't sound unprofessional. He ultimately decided to keep it, if only to round out his lofty resume: No. 5 in the class; president of the student body, choir and the drama club.

"I like to think it presents a complete picture of who I am," he says. "I mean, I like to have fun, too."

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