High School Seniors Check Out Colleges - via the Internet

LIKE many high school seniors, Susannah Tobin of the Winsor School in Boston is in the thick of the hunt for her future alma mater. Her first choice is Harvard, which happens to be right in her own backyard. But checking out her other prospects, among them Yale, Princeton, Duke, and Stanford, has proved to be just as easy - as easy as sitting at her computer and logging onto the World Wide Web.

By connecting to these universities' Home Pages, computer data collections produced by the universities, Ms. Tobin says she was able to check out course catalogs, talk to current students via electronic mail to get the scoop on campus life, and even take a ''virtual'' campus tour.

Ms. Tobin isn't alone. While burrowing through college catalogs and parleying with guidance counselors are far from obsolete, a small but growing number of high schoolers are trekking from campus to campus via the Web - the branch of the Internet that links graphics and text.

Practically all major colleges and universities already have sites on the Web. (Many schools use http://www.name of the university.edu for their address.) But as schools clue in to the Web's power as a recruiting tool, they're adding a smorgasbord of new information to attract college-shopping students and parents: admissions requirements, financial-aid information, and in some cases even applications on-line.

In September, the University of Delaware in Newark (http://www.udel.edu) put its application on the Web. So far about 100 of its 2,500 applications have been received on-line. Those who apply on-line simply have to drop the application fee in the mail.

Then there's that ''virtual tour'' that many schools offer, complete with postcard-sized photos of campus facilities, interactive maps, and a talking guide. Princeton University, (http://www.princeton.edu) for example, offers its Orange Key tour on the Web, the same one students take if they visit in person.

For this generation of students, whose access to the Internet is still relatively limited, the primary appeal of the Web is speed and entertainment.

''Kids, particularly high school kids who have grown up on computers, spend their lives on computers, and to get something that way ... is more attractive than the printed word,'' says Wayne Becraft, executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in Washington.

But for colleges and universities, it all comes down to the cost of recruiting. Eventually, admissions officers say, schools will be able to put most of their information on-line, which will reduce the need for printed material.

''It's a cheap and easy way to put information in front of students,'' says Tim O'Neal, dean of admissions at the University of Chicago, which recently jazzed up its Web site.

But the real draw is the Internet's ability to reach another a group of students: those who can afford college. ''If you can afford college, typically you're in a home with a computer,'' says Tom Figel head of Figel Inc., a public-relations firm in Chicago that helps companies put material on-line.

Smaller schools, eager to portray themselves as techo-savvy, are also high-tailing it onto the Web. Bradford College, for example, a small, liberal arts school in Bradford, Mass., with 600 students from 30 states and 35 countries, plans to launch a Web site this spring. Dean of admissions Bill Dunfey says the Internet is essential to the school's international recruiting efforts.

Still, guidance counselors and students contend that the Web shouldn't replace in-person visits and recruiting. ''The personal touch is still going to be really important,'' says Michael Stoner, vice president of College Connections, a New York-based public relations firm for educational institutions.

Even Miss Tobin isn't completely sold. Rather than request her applications via the Web, she went for the less high-tech method and sent out postcards. ''I didn't want to trust the computer,'' she says.

Practically all major colleges and universities already have sites on the World Wide Web.

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