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Vanderbilt U. Advises TV-Character Applicant on Twitter

This week’s sign that the Twitter revolution is upon us: campus officials’ tweeting financial-aid advice to television characters.

Lyla Garrity, a cheerleader turned Christian youth leader on Friday Night Lights, a series about small-town life in Texas, dreams of Vanderbilt University. But — conflict! — her father loses her college savings in a bad business deal. As it stands, Lyla may have to follow her boyfriend, Tim, to the fictional San Antonio State University (he tells her she’s too good for that).

Melanie Moran, associate director of Vanderbilt’s news service, recently discovered that “LylaGarrity” is following the university’s Twitter feed. Also, the character’s own feed, created as a marketing ploy for the show, mentions her dream college.

“Vanderbilt is a wonderful school and I still have faith I’ll be able to go there someday,” Lyla wrote on March 23. A week later, she was less optimistic: “Vanderbilt’s always been a dream but I’m not sure if it’s realistic anymore. At least at SASU I’ll have Tim…”

But wait, Ms. Moran thought, what about Vanderbilt’s new expanded-aid program, which replaces need-based loans with scholarships and grants to meet demonstrated need? She’s not in the habit of advising fictional applicants, but, she figured, why not?

“Be sure to see Vanderbilt’s new Expanded Financial Aid program – more help, no need-based loans: http://tinyurl.com/crajl5,” she wrote to Lyla on Vanderbilt’s Twitter feed. “Thank you!” Lyla tweeted back. “The Financial Aid program looks exactly like what I need right now.”

Will the show’s writers now give Lyla a good financial-aid package from Vanderbilt? That wasn’t Ms. Moran’s goal. “It was and it is an experiment,” she says. “It was, ‘Why not get the word out?’”

Still, Ms. Moran is eager to see what happens to Lyla: “I probably will be tuning in a little bit more.” —Sara Lipka

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