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Source: The New York Times

Posted on July 5, 2000

      High school students are increasingly turning to the Internet to investigate their college options, but fears about transmitting personal information may be keeping a computer-savvy generation of students from applying to college online.

      In a recent study, 41 percent of high school seniors who applied to college using a traditional paper form said worries about security were a major factor in their decision not to apply online. And 44 percent of the students feared their online applications would not reach the proper person in the college admissions office.

      The study was conducted by Art & Science Group, a Baltimore-based higher education marketing and consulting firm, and financed by Embark.com, which offers information on higher education online.

      "My guess is it's a mixed fear about the Internet and how the colleges will handle the information," said Richard Hesel of the Art & Science Group.

      Overall, 38 percent of students said they had filled out their college application online or used a college or university's Web site to print out an application they then mailed. A full 93 percent of those surveyed used paper applications.

      To boost student confidence in online applications, Hesel recommended that colleges and universities provide an immediate confirmation via e-mail when they receive a student's application, and that they emphasize their Internet security measures on their Web sites.

      Ninety percent of the students surveyed said an immediate confirmation from the school would make them more likely to apply online, while 87 percent suggested a reduced fee for online applications. Eighty-three percent would like to see assurances that online applications are treated the same as those that are mailed in, and 82 percent said strong security measures to protect their personal information would make them more comfortable applying online.

      Colleges and universities are beginning to take some of those steps, said Mark Cannon, executive director for the Washington-based National Association for College Admission Counseling.

      "They're waking up to the reality that today's generation of young people appear to do transactions online," he said. "You're seeing a sea change in how offices view online applications. They want to view those the same as those that come through the mail."

      College admissions offices are finding it is easier to contact students about their applications via e-mail than to track them down on the phone, Cannon said. He added that students should not fear that the online applications are treated differently from those sent through the mail, since most offices now have to enter the information from the paper forms into their computer databases anyway.

      Admissions offices have always been vigilant about protecting student confidentiality, Cannon said, and that attitude is carrying over to the Internet as schools transfer their paper processes online.

      In general, high school students are becoming more comfortable with applying to colleges online. Chris Munoz, associate provost for enrollment management at the University of Dayton in Ohio, said the number of online applications to his institution has steadily increased over the years, with 57 percent of applications coming via the Internet for the class entering this fall, up from 27 percent in 1998.

      "Each generation coming in has more of a familiarity with the technology," he said.

      All students applying to the Catholic university, whether by mail or the Internet, can check the status of their admission online. "That means 24-7, students can get this vital information," he said. "We're all in a whole new world."

      Colleges and universities are going to have to start offering more information and services on their Web sites to meet the demands of new students that have grown up using technology to do their homework and chat with their friends, Munoz said. He said his university has added new features to its Web site to take advantage of the interactivity the Internet offers.

      The features include a calculator to help students figure out how much financial aid they might be eligible for, and options to customize the Web site to suit particular academic interests.

      "I think the University of Dayton has experienced more interest from students, even though we've raised our prices to provide the technology," Munoz said.

      Cannon, whose group represents college admission officials and high school guidance counselors, said the trend toward more interactive admissions sites is growing, largely because they allow information to be tailored to specific student interests.

      "Increasingly, you're seeing a shift from sort of a bulletin board format that puts a lot of information on your Web site that's informative, to something that's more interactive," he said. "It's hard to go to print with a brochure that emphasizes every major. Now you can zap them information that will be of interest."

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