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Students look for colleges on Net

Colleges and universities that do not offer information and admissions applications online may lose some of the best and brightest potential students.

Colleges and universities that don't offer information and admissions applications online may lose some of the best and brightest potential students.

A new national survey of 400 students shows that high school and college students are leaping onto the Web in droves and expecting their universities to do so as well.

According to student Poll, a subscription-based research report on the attitudes and behaviors of college-bound high school students and their parents, last year only 4 percent of students checked out Web sites of prospective schools. This year, that number grew exponentially, to 58 percent.

Students also want to use the Web to apply to colleges.

Last year 73 percent said they preferred to apply using the old "dead-tree" method--paper applications sent through the mail. This year, that number dived to 48 percent, while the number of people wanting to apply online jumped from 11 to 34 percent.

The message students are sending is loud and clear, said Richard Hesel, publisher of student Poll. "What it means for colleges is if they don't incorporate this technology, they're going to lose students," Hesel said.

While Hesel didn't have exact numbers, he said most colleges have Web pages, but only a handful allow for online applications.

Virginia Tech is one of those that permit online applications. According to university spokeswoman Kelly Queijo, the decision to put applications online, made about a year and a half ago, was fairly natural.

Queijo said that administrators were noticing that students were increasingly communicating by email. "We did this in order to meet their needs," she said.

This year, the university received five percent of its applications through the Web. Queijo expects that number to jump to ten percent next year.

Not surprisingly, "the No. 1 requested major from applicants from the Web was engineering," she said. "The second most [popular] was computer science." Clearly, she added, "the Web is a vehicle for attracting students."

While universities are increasingly offering Web-based applications--MIT just started offering online applications last week--many are worried about the administration costs involved in weeding out phony applications, Queijo said.

Virginia Tech had a simple solution to avoid frivolous applications from the likes of "Mickey Mouse" and "the Devil": charge students for applications using CyberCash or secured credit card forms.

Prospective students expect to be able to apply online, Hesel said. "It's only going to increase and the institutions that don't make it available...are going to seem hopelessly out of date."