Lost in Cyberspace
Colleges Online
© 1998 by H.B. Koplowitz

Applying to college keeps getting easier, as higher education takes the competition for students into cyberspace. On the West Coast, for example, the nine-campus University of California system and the 22 Cal State University schools recently opened separate websites that let students fill out and submit admission forms online. The websites take a lot of the drudgery out of applying for college, enabling students to edit applications without the use of white-out, and apply to multiple schools without filling out multiple forms. Online applications also benefit the schools, saving data input time and storage space, not to mention trees.

Reflecting the patchwork of online college admission websites nationally, the two California university systems offer similar online services, but UC's is managed in-house while CSU's is provided by an outside company. As some schools have created their own online admission forms, others have signed on with private companies that let students use the same forms to apply to participating schools across the country. Most online application services are free to students, and some schools even waive their application fee if you apply online.

Cal State University's online application website, "CSUMentor" <www.csumentor.edu>, is operated by L.A.-based XAP Corp. Owner Allen Firstenberg said he got the idea for online college applications several years ago when he walked into his youngest daughter's bedroom and nearly tripped over a dozen stacks of paper. Each was an application packet for a college. It occurred to the then-director of Rockwell International's Science Center that there had to be a better way.

"My mission was to make things easier for students and their families," Firstenberg said. "To make it easier for them to understand the admissions process and the application process."

In addition to the online application, "CSUMentor" has information on the different campuses, admission requirements and financial aid eligibility, and lets applicants communicate with CSU campuses via e-mail. A unique feature to XAP's "datacheck" software is that it idiot-proofs applications, helping students submit -- and schools to receive -- accurate forms.

XAP's website <www.xap.com> also provides online applications for a sprinkling of schools in Florida, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington. And recently it signed up the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, including USC, the California Institute for the Arts and CalTech.

Firstenberg said Cal State and AICCU have agreed to share a common database, so that ultimately, students will only have to enter data once to create an application for any of the 71 independent colleges and 22 state universities in California.

When asked about the University of California, Firstenberg chuckled and said, "We'd love to have them."

But UC has its own application website called "Pathways" <www.ucop.edu/pathways>.

"Basically it boils down to should we do it ourselves or pay an outside proprietor," said UC spokesperson Terry Colvin. "Inevitably, it is cheaper and better if we do it ourselves."

Colvin said that with assistance from IBM, the University of California began piloting "Pathways" with 58 California high schools four years ago."Pathways" has information about UC campuses, financial aid, resources for transfer and foreign students, and high school and college courses that meet UC requirements. During its first year, UC anticipates 7,000 online applications, about 10 percent of its annual "crop," Colvin said.

He added that in the future, UC would like all its applications to be online, and not just for the convenience of students. UC prints 200,000 applications a year. It gets back 70,000, which must then be retyped into a computer, stored, and eventually disposed of.

He said there have been discussions about a one-size-fits-all application for all California colleges and universities. As for creating a national form, Colvin said "we've never felt an urgent need to recruit out of state."

Outside California, "Collegescape" <www.collegescape.com>, based in Cambridge, Mass., has online applications for more than 200 schools, big and small, and including such heavies as Harvard and Radcliffe, Oberlin, Reed College and New York University. Many of the schools waive their application processing fee if you apply online.

Another online admission website is "College Board Online" <www.collegeboard.org>, which is operated by the folks who administer the SATs among other tests. The website has computerized applications (you have to download the software) for more than 800 schools including the State Universities of New York, Yale, Sarah Lawrence and the Fashion Institute of Technology. It also offers career and financial aid search software, advice on writing college admission essays, and, of course, information on those dreaded college entrance exams.
 

© 1998 By H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.