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Just look at their faces: A bus full of UMd admissions staff and a turtle mascot surprise applicants with good news

Alex Mazze answered the door at his family’s house in Rockville on Sunday morning, then jumped back: A huge red bus was rumbling on the street out front of his house, a small crowd of people wearing red had gathered around his door, neighbors were staring, and video cameras were rolling.

“Alex?” a woman asked the bilingual senior at Thomas Sprigg Wootton High School, who had just woken up. “I’m Shannon Gundy, the director of admissions at the University of Maryland. Congratulations, you’ve been admitted to Maryland!”

“Whoa,” he said. “Oh my goodn– … Really?”

Testudo, the school’s furry terrapin mascot, went in for a hug. People cheered. His parents looked as if they might cry.

Over the coming weeks and months, college admissions announcements will be made to hundreds of thousands of students. Some will get an e-mail. Some will get a letter. Some, like most of U-Md.’s applicants later this week, will log on to a Web site to find out their fate.

For the students and families waiting anxiously at the end of a process so long, so fraught, so emotional, an electronic message is an impersonal, sudden end. It is for admissions staff, as well — especially at big schools like U-Md. where they have been working nights and weekends, reading through 28,000 applications from students, most of whom they never meet.

This year, for the first time, U-Md. officials decided to make it personal.

For six students, chosen mostly at random, officials literally walked right up to the door and gave them a hug.

“We don’t have a clue what to expect,” Gundy said as the bus rolled out of campus Sunday morning, full of admissions staff members wearing Maryland-flag scarves, turtle brooches and red scarves, jackets, a cape and a bow tie. “We hope the students will be as excited as we are.”

Years ago, the staff would end the admissions process with a Saturday spent stuffing acceptance letters into envelopes, then line the halls and applaud when the mail trucks came to take the boxes away. More recently, hoping to get a sense of some of the excitement and relief of those decisions, they gathered in a conference room following social media — enjoying the elated tweets announcing acceptances, watching YouTube videos parents shot of their kids reacting to the decision.

They try throughout the process to reassure families, make them less anxious, Gundy said. But it’s not easy on either end.

This year, they decided to get in on the fun part. All in.

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