Technology and the College Admissions Process: When It Comes to Using the Web for Researching Potential Schools, Students Aren't as Smart about It as They (and Others) like to Believe

Article excerpt

We all know the Internet has forever altered how high school students research and apply to colleges. After all, seniors can "visit" campuses and their surroundings via virtual tours, peruse online course catalogs at will, and explore financial-aid options using free tools on Web sites. Increasingly, it's just a matter of filling in the fields of a Web-based application form and clicking "Submit." It's all good, right?

Not completely. It's more of an 80/20 ratio. For, along with the clear advantages that the Internet brings to the process, it has brought problems as well.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

For instance, savvy seniors may think they have it all wired, and might just skip the step of talking with a school guidance counselor. Parents, accustomed to deferring to their kids' expertise when it comes to all things "computer," might be tempted to concur. This would be a mistake.

It's not that excellent information isn't available on the Internet. It is, and moreover, much of it was previously unavailable. But most high school seniors, despite their self-confidence, are not yet adept enough at gathering it.

"Kids are great recreational users [of the Internet], but lousy academic users," observes Kenneth Hartman, "and that includes their researching of colleges." Hartman, a member of the Graduate School of Education at The University of Pennsylvania who spent 11 years at The College Board, is the author of The Internet Guide for College-Bound Students. He notes that most students just go to the main pages of college Web sites--the marketing materials, if you will. Fewer than 25 percent will dig much deeper, he estimates, and thus most are missing opportunities for real insight.

Using the Web and e-mail, "now students can find the `unofficial' information about a school or academic program," Hartman explains. To learn about hotbed issues or crime on campus, for example, they can read the college's student newspaper online. To explore non-academic life, they might scan the meeting minutes of various clubs and student organizations, perhaps even e-mailing questions to club officers. Students rarely e-mail inquiries to faculty, current students or alumni. "That's a shame," Hartman volunteers, "because such direct and unfiltered communication is usually invaluable."

Very few high schoolers delve deep enough online to learn much about an institution's faculty either--another huge omission, notes Hartman. For instance, student evaluations of faculty and of courses are often posted online, detailing class size, lab work, lecture style and more. "Why be satisfied with the course catalog's description when you can find out what students who have already taken the class think?"

COUNSELORS: OVERLOOKED AND OVERWHELMED

Like parents, high school guidance counselors may also tend to defer to students' Web expertise. Little effort has been made to train guidance counselors in effective use of the Internet, so it's natural for them to gravitate toward the same obvious set of materials that their students do. Similarly, learning how to mine student information systems' data takes both time and assistance.

Plus, many counselors are overwhelmed by the sheer number of students they must serve. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of no more than 250 students per counselor, but in large high schools, case loads easily exceed two or three times that number.

Encouraging signs, however, are in the wind. Foremost, focused technology training and tools are becoming available.

For instance, the National Technology Institute for School Counselors, founded by Hartman, began delivering tailored professional development to K-12 school counselors nationwide in 1999. Via workshops, seminars and summer institutes, counselors learn how to locate, interpret and use Internet-based information; how to use specific software and Internet applications for documentation as well as guidance; how to write technology plans or grants; and more. …