High school seniors applying to college this fall are much more likely to have used electronic applications than the college seniors they're chasing out the door. "Electronic applications used to be favored by only the innovators and the techies," says Dr. Frank Burtnett, former CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and current president of Education Now, a firm in Springfield, Virginia, that does educational consulting and training. "Now the more mainstream student is seeing the time and task benefits of doing all this electronically," he says.
The Princeton Review, for example, reports that online applications through its Web site have grown 80 percent, from 215,558 between July 2000 and June 2001 to 388,509 for the period ending in June 2004.
Individual school systems also report a surge in online-application usage. Students applying to multiple colleges have to input basic information only once when they use online applications. And they get instantaneous confirmation of delivery in lieu of a just-in-time postmark, thus avoiding the ritual mad dash to the post office. This method can give students an advantage in first-come-first-served rolling application pools and can save them money: Some colleges short on qualified applicants periodically waive the fee for online applications.
Tech-savvy students might also create their own college-application Web site, an easy way to showcase their work, particularly clips of performances. "Certain activities, such as participation in sports, theater, or a dance group, lend themselves to electronic applications," says Lisa Rosenberg, associate director for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. But the process is still far from completely virtual. Rosenberg says applicants who snail-mail their materials should include printouts of their Web pages. E-application boom or no, students still can't assume members of the admissions committee review applications within arm's length of a computer.