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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

The Cyberspace Alternative
Licking stamps is for suckers. Shopping for an overseas university is becoming easier as Internet-based information and services multiply

By STEWART TAGGART

In applying to several U.S. colleges, Jakarta high-school student Eka Kokadir submitted the basic forms and required essays electronically via the Internet. Official documents - school transcripts, teachers' recommendations and signature on paper - still had to go by normal post.

Half light speed. Half snail mail. As Kokadir can attest, the paper chase is still very much a part of the college admissions process. But students bound for campuses overseas are finding that when it comes to choosing which school to attend, writing letters and licking stamps is no longer the only research option.

Today, updated information on academic programs and campus life is readily available on the Web for just about any college a student might want to attend. Search engines help students narrow the choices, and information brokers have even cropped up to match up university recruiters with likely candidates - noteworthy improvements over the days when choosing a school meant mailing away for bulky packets of information that could take weeks to arrive. Standardized university guidebooks and other materials, usually printed once a year, are often not only dated, they might not contain the details a student is looking for - details that often are quickly available on school websites, through university-related chat rooms and by e-mailing campuses directly.

Speed is just one of the reasons university admissions offices are going digital, says Sally Guzdar, a marketing spokeswoman for CollegeEdge: "It's easier, and more efficient," she says. "Students, administrators, everyone seems to prefer it this way." Although in-depth online information about colleges as well as electronic admissions systems have only existed for a year or two, progress has been rapid. MIT's prestigious Sloan School of Management, for example, requires all applications to its MBA program be submitted in digital form rather than on paper.

Driving the transition are independent websites that serve as intermediaries in the admissions process. Among them is CollegeEdge, which provides college-seekers with more than 70,000 web pages of content, and an online workshop for drafting, spell-checking and storing necessary documents - no charge. When a student selects a university, the site acts as an online conduit to the admission office. Last year, CollegeEdge (the four-year old company makes money by charging schools a small fee for every transaction) handled nearly 500,000 application-related submissions to colleges, and expects to handle up to three million this year.

Kokadir was among those boosting the tally. "E-application can be really helpful, especially when meeting the schools' admissions deadlines," says the computer science major. To learn as much about his selected colleges as possible, he made extensive use of the Web, cruising sites such as U.S. News, StudyUSA and (Peterson's . For Asian students planning to remain in their own hemisphere for higher education, Asiaweek publishes an annual ranking of regional universities at www.asiaweek.com/universities.

hot links
www.collegeedge.com
www.usnews.com
www.studyusa.com
www.petersons.com
www.asiaweek.com/universities
www.gradschools.com
collegeapps.miningco.com
www.studyabroad.com
According to Mark Shay, spokesman for Gradschools.com, Asian students have an advantage in researching U.S. universities. Because of the time difference, they can surf sites in America at times when traffic on campus computer networks is light. "Everything will be faster," he says. However, there are limitations to using the Web exclusively. Kokadir bought a printed version of Peterson's annual guide to U.S. colleges from Amazon.com. "Everything in the book can be found on the Net, but reading through a computer monitor is not very pleasant," he says. And with only a 33.6-kbps modem connection and unreliable Internet access, Kokadir found flipping through a book to be quicker. "Printed materials in conjunction with the Internet is really a perfect combination."

Finding individual college websites can be as simple as typing www.nameofcollege.edu.countryabbreviation in the URL field of your Web browser. If that fails, enter key words - try "college admissions," "university" and the name of specific colleges and regions - into a search engine such as Yahoo or Alta Vista. Sue Newman, who helps oversee the college admissions section of the popular community-oriented MiningCo.com site, says the most asked-for resources are rankings of schools, followed by information on scholarships.

Choosing a college requires patient research, and students who wish to study abroad need to work harder because they usually can't visit campuses prior to making a decision, Newman says. "In these cases, we suggest they try to get an e-mail pen pal at the school," she says. Admissions offices may offer contact details for members of the student body as well as for alumni associations and school graduates living in the student's area.

Newman also suggests participation in university-oriented chat rooms. The online, real-time forums "can often help students in making a final choice after the admit/wait list or rejection letters arrive," she says. MiningCo.com is just one site that offers chat.

The Internet has made communications between universities and prospective students easier, but the effects have not been entirely positive. Some administrators now find themselves dealing with a blizzard of e-mail queries in addition to their normal duties. Few have been given extra staff, so general questions are often given a low priority, particularly those asking about climate or social activities. Students should look for that kind of information on university websites, says Gradschools.com's Shay. Some schools have eliminated public e-mail response altogether. Instead, they ask students to submit questions using Web-based forms that are automatically shunted to the assigned personnel over the school's network.

The additional e-mail may be a burden, but administrators are finding the Internet can ease their load in other ways. Universities seeking to adjust the balance in campus demographics or searching for students with specific characteristics - "A university might want to find students from Australia who are soccer players with straight A's," Guzdar says - are going online to make their recruitment efforts more efficient. CollegeEdge allows universities to search the database of students registered at the site for individuals who meet a particular profile.

Online matchmaking, academia-style, will only grow in time. Mark Landon, spokesman for StudyAbroad.com, says students "tend to be the most wired people there are." Already sophisticated Internet consumers, they are comfortable using new technologies to help in making major decisions in their lives - like choosing a university. Fortunately, it doesn't take a college degree to figure out cyberspace is a good place to look for one.


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