Applying to college easier with PC Web sites, Apply 98 CD reduce much of drudgery

Your computer

October 19, 1997|By Michael Himowitz

OVER the next few months, 2.5 million high school seniors will apply to college. If you're one of them -- or have one living in your house -- you already know what it means to suffer through the most excruciating form of torture known to teen-agers and their families.

First, you have to decide what colleges to apply to, which means figuring out which colleges meet your criteria, and which of those might want to have you as a student. You'll also need information about a little issue called paying for higher education. Then you face the application process, which means filling out endless forms for each college and writing those dreadful essays.

Well, here's some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that nothing can eliminate the angst of senior year. The good news is that your computer can eliminate a lot of the drudgery and help you find the information you need more easily than ever before.

As you start your adventure, the World Wide Web can transport you to virtually every campus in the country. Just log onto a school's home page and you'll find all the basic information you need -- a general description of the college, admissions requirements, academic standards, course offerings, financial aid, campus schedules and Web pages set up by student organizations and students themselves. Many schools provide "virtual" tours of the campus, and a small but growing number -- including the University of Maryland system -- allow you to apply by filling out an online application.

If you don't have a computer hooked to the Web, your high school or local library probably does. Spend some time browsing -- it's the next best thing to an actual campus visit.

Once you've decided where to apply, it's time to look for software or services that can help you with the process. This is particularly important if, like many students, you're applying to a half-dozen colleges or more.

The hands-down winner in this contest is Apply 98, from Apply Technology of Burlington, Mass. It's a free (that's right, free) CD-ROM for Windows and Macintosh computers that contains the application forms for more than 600 colleges and universities. These are the real McCoy, with all the original typefaces and graphics, and the participating colleges have agreed to accept them.

The neat thing about Apply 98 is that you have to enter all the basic information only once. Although college applications differ in the details, they all want to know your name, address, social security number, vital statistics, grade point average, SAT scores, high school background, senior course load, activities, sports, honors and so on. Apply 98 stores all this information in a database that you fill out at the start of the process. After that, every time you start a new college application, it automatically fills in the appropriate blanks. When you're through with an application, send it to your printer and mail it off.

Now, Apply 98 isn't magic. You'll still have to tweak each application. Some colleges ask for information that others don't, or they want it in a different form. Also, the program isn't perfect, and sometimes it misses an item or two. And yes, you'll still have to write those essays -- either in the application itself or in a word processor (you can paste an essay directly into the application form).

But the program can save hours of misery. If you get something wrong, you can easily go back and fix it.

We used last year's version when our eldest son was applying to college, and it was a godsend. This year's version is much faster, easier to use and more reliable -- with one exception. The Windows 3.x version requires Windows for Workgroups 3.11. It won't run properly on the older Windows 3.1. If you're running Windows 3.1 and your computer has enough horsepower, this might be a good time to upgrade to Windows 95, or at least to the newer Win 3.11.

There are other goodies on the Apply CD, including a database with information on 1,400 colleges. You can search for schools that match your criteria. Add the schools you like to a list of favorites and open their applications. If you're connected to the Web, Apply will launch your browser and take you to any school's home page.

Apply Technology is also a lender under the federal guaranteed student loan programs. On the CD you'll find information about these and online application forms for Stafford student loans and Plus loans for parents.

If you're wondering why this CD is free, you can thank advertisers whose promos show up on a little billboard that appears on Apply's main screen.

You can order a copy of Apply 98 online through the company's Web site (, or call 203-740-3504.

If you'd like to check out other companies that can help you apply to college -- either on paper or online -- point your Web browser to the College Edge ( or CollegeLink ( I've also posted links to a variety of college sources on SunSpot, The Sun's Web site. Surf over to

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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