For high-school seniors, it’s college application season again, and one of the emerging trends on the internet today is the ability for students, parents, and guidance counselors to use the web to snare college admissions. Online resources are saving students time and money and, in some cases, making them more prepared than those who do not take advantage of these resources.

It is important that students are aware of these resources as they make key decisions regarding their choice in higher education. According to the 2000 Admission Trends Survey conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), 100 percent of responding institutions reported that they provide detailed admission information through their web site.

More importantly, these institutions are starting to use the internet to recruit prospective freshman, reaching out to students with eMail updates on everything from upcoming events to acceptance letters. In the Annual Report on the Uses of Technology in College Admission 2000 (from Education Now), more than half of the responding institutions reported using the internet to recruit prospective students.

Through the power of the internet, the entire college decision-making process has been made significantly easier. The following are some important sources to help students in this process.

1. Researching colleges

When beginning the initial college search, students can narrow down choices fairly quickly online. A great first step is to visit Peterson’s free college decision guide, which allows students to narrow a list of appropriate colleges (and disqualify unfitting ones) simply by answering a few questions on topics such as SAT or ACT score range, tuition costs, desired location and campus setting, desired competitiveness, and more.

Even after narrowing down the choices, it is unrealistic for students to visit each and every school they are considering. Through the internet, colleges are providing students with a vast amount of information on their institutions.

Many universities offer virtual campus tours, provide three-dimensional views of dorm rooms and classrooms, and even give prospective students the opportunity to attend a lecture virtually. University web sites provide everything from the typical weather forecast during the school months, to information about extracurricular activities such as sports, fraternities and sororities, and more.

While the internet has become one of the most cost-efficient ways to narrow down a student’s prospective list of colleges, it also has created a more informed candidate with a better understanding of life at the university. In fact, 60 percent of those institutions surveyed in Education Now report a rise in campus visits attributed to exposure from the internet.

2. Contacting students and alumni

One of the really unique opportunities to come from the internet is the ability to contact current students and alumni of a particular college or university, thus giving high school students a personal feel for that institution. Many students find that speaking with a current student or alumnus can provide “inside information” that isn’t available from other sources. Most college sites contain information about how to contact students or alumni to help candidates decide if that institution is right for them.

In addition, the internet makes it easier to reach students and alumni in your hometown for a face-to-face meeting, which often is encouraged by universities. This is a terrific opportunity to get firsthand information about what it’s really like at college—and students can feel free to ask many questions they are reluctant to ask a campus official, such as, “How’s the dorm food taste? Which major is the easiest or most difficult? How’s the social life?”

3. Applying online

Once students have narrowed down their choices, they can actually apply to many universities online, as well as keep track of the timeline for college admissions. According to the NACAC survey, 87 percent of responding institutions allow students to apply for admission online.

One site students should know is Embark.com, which has just merged with the Princeton Review. Embark.com partners with colleges and universities to provide the official online version of their applications. Applicants can submit their applications securely online from Embark.com and they will go directly to the appropriate admissions office.

With an online application, students can format and error-check the application without the fear of typos or the dreaded whiteout. Embark.com’s StudentPoll indicates that 43 percent of students prefer to fill out and submit applications online. Many universities accept the common online application, and through Embark.com, students need only enter common information just once and it will appear automatically in their other applications as well, saving them a great deal of time.

The internet also offers great tips on writing college essays. The College Board web site, collegeboard.com, offers some helpful tips on what colleges are looking for in an essay. Peterson’s “Guide to Writing the Admissions Essay” gives students great suggestions on topics, as well as formatting options.

4. SAT prep courses

Online test preparation is extremely valuable for students who want a flexible study schedule, enjoy studying at their own pace, and want unlimited access to online test questions 24 hours a day. Online SAT or ACT courses offer extensive practice under test-like conditions, including full-length practice exams, quizzes, and more. Many sites offer eMail help from a team of expert instructors.

Though AOL@School, TestU offers an SAT Crunch Course, complete with practice tests and real-time feedback. Kaplan.com and the Princeton Review’s Homeroom.com offer online test preparation for the SAT and ACT, as well as crash courses in both math and verbal subjects. Students can even register for the ACT or SAT tests online through Collegeboard.com.

5. Financial aid information

With the cost of higher education increasing each year, students and parents are looking for ways to help ease the financial burden. The internet is a valuable source for anyone seeking financial aid, scholarships, or grants. In addition, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can now be completed online. FAFSA is the official application that students must use to apply for financial aid.

Many sites offer scholarship search functions that can turn up not only academic and athletic scholarships, but also scholarships based on heritage, club affiliation, interests and hobbies, employment, and more. Each year, millions of dollars of scholarship money goes unclaimed. Among the best scholarship search sites are Peterson’s, CollegeView, and Wired Scholar.

Once students narrow down their choices to their desired schools, clearly nothing replaces an actual campus visit. Even so, students will arrive at their top schools with a considerable amount of knowledge, making the trip more time-efficient. Students should know how to take advantage of the free resources available to them on the web; the internet can save students a great deal of time and money, and it can lead them to the college or university of their dreams.

Links:

Peterson’s
http://www.petersons.com

Embark.com
http://www.embark.com

The Princeton Review
http://www.homeroom.com

The College Board
http://www.collegeboard

AOL@school
http://www.aolatschool.com

Kaplan.com
http://www.kaplan.com

Free Application for Federal Student Aid
http://www.fafsa.ed.gov

CollegeView
http://www.collegeview.com

Wired Scholar
http://www.wiredscholar.com