Shop for colleges through cyberspace Check out courses, dorms, activities on schools' Web sites.

November 30, 1997|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Can't make it to the West Coast for a personalized tour of Stanford University?

Then try the next best thing -- a visit to the Stanford University Web site.

Through the Internet, prospective students can get acquainted with Stanford and more than 1,200 other colleges and universities across the country -- or right here in Maryland.

Take a picture tour of the campus. Study floor plans of dormitory rooms or gather admissions information instantly. Have a question? E-mail a message to administrators and faculty members for a prompt and personalized reply.

For a sense of what's happening on a campus, read the archives of the student newspaper Web site.

Whether interested in horseback riding or tae kwon do, students doing their college shopping through cyberspace will find Web sites filled with details about these and other extracurricular activities.

"Colleges and universities are now baring their souls to the public," said Robert J. Massa, dean of enrollment for the Johns Hopkins University. "There's a wealth of information on the Web about the inner workings of colleges and universities."

In recent years, admissions offices have begun to develop Web sites that include basic information from their college catalogs. Prospective students can find out about campus tours, request printed information and, in some cases, download an application form or apply online to a college.

At the same time, they can go beyond the standard facts and figures about a school for a behind-the-scenes look at campus life. They can explore the Web sites of academic departments, individual courses, clubs, and professional and cultural organizations.

"In the past, everything that we put in front of prospective students was controlled by the admissions office," said Massa, whose office is testing an electronic online application with a selected group of applicants. "Now there is so much more information available."

Hopkins freshman Neil Bhayani was a high school student in Buffalo, N.Y., when he began to scan Web sites for a general overview of about 10 schools and their programs. He used e-mail to request information and applications and ask questions about required essays and student qualifications.

"It was very helpful," said the 18-year-old, who hopes to become a physician. "It's a good way to get a first impression of a school. If you're not able to visit, some of the Web sites offer picture tours. And e-mail saves you postage and the cost of a phone call. It's a great way to contact the university."

It was through e-mail that Bhayani met Massa, who is now his faculty adviser. The student e-mailed questions to the university about combining a neuroscience major with economics and seeking reassurance when he missed a preregistration deadline. Massa used e-mail to reply.

"E-mail is so much more convenient and less obtrusive than phone calls or letters," Massa said. "Students can have direct access like never before. If I sound like I'm excited about this, I am. This is the best opportunity for prospective students and colleges to connect that I have seen in 24 years in college admissions."

Bhayani, who is of Indian heritage and a follower of Jainism, an offshoot of Hinduism, also sent e-mail queries about cultural diversity of students and was pleased to learn that he could gather with Hindu students Sundays for prayer and discussions.

Before arriving on campus, he e-mailed a message to the Hopkins newspaper to note his interest in joining its staff.

"If you feel like you're psyched and ready to go, often you can get involved in the campus before you join it," he said.

About 5,000 inquiries, or 8 percent of the total, come to the Hopkins admissions office through its Web site, which was established several years ago, Massa said -- a threefold increase since last year.

Massa recently received an e-mail request for a college catalog from a student in Japan. Rather than have the student wait for it to arrive by mail, he e-mailed a message directing the student to the Hopkins Web site for instant information.

"Each Web site is going to be different and students will have to spend some time with it," said Massa. "But it's exciting, it's an adventure, and students should approach it that way."

More high school students are exploring the Loyola College Web site for application policies and procedures and interview scheduling, according to William Bossemeyer, dean of admissions.

"It's a quick way to gather some basic information," Bossemeyer said. "And it makes things more convenient at certain stages of the college search. It's an important tool, there's no question about that, and we will continue to develop it."

Prospective students can also learn about Loyola's faculty and their backgrounds and look over course descriptions that include homework assignments and a syllabus.

"It's kind of a grab bag," Bossemeyer said. "A lot of different segments of the college are putting information on the Web for a variety of reasons."

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