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Universities Pushing Online Applications

UC and Cal State plan to switch the process to the Internet in 2005. Exceptions will be made if students lack computer access.

September 16, 2003|Stuart Silverstein | Times Staff Writer

Paper applications are becoming a thing of the past for students hoping to attend California's two public university systems.

The California State University and University of California announced Monday that they would urge everyone seeking undergraduate admission to apply via the Internet, starting with students entering in the fall of 2005.

CSU and UC are calling the online applications a requirement, but they will allow exceptions for students who say they lack access to the Internet.

Although most American colleges and universities already accept applications via the Internet, CSU and UC are believed to be the first big U.S. universities to ask all students to submit their materials electronically, admissions experts said.

The practice is already widespread at the California university systems. For this fall's incoming class, UC reported that 68.4% of its applications were online, while CSU estimated that its percentage was 80% to 90%.

Admissions officials and student advocates generally welcomed the move, although some expressed concern that it could put low-income students without readily available Internet access at a disadvantage.

One of the chief benefits, admissions officials said, is that the online process helps colleges and universities cut costs -- CSU, for instance, said it would stop printing 2 million paper applications per year.

Electronic applications also can speed the universities' evaluation of prospective students.

In addition, the online systems cut paperwork errors sometimes made by students or by admissions office employees who type information from paper applications into computers. The online systems can alert students who leave required answers blank or who make inadvertent mistakes, admissions officials said.

CSU and UC officials said they would provide paper applications, upon request, for students who are unable to gain access to the Internet or to print out the applications from the university systems' Web sites. They pointed out, however, that students who do not have Internet access at home might be able to apply online using computers at their schools, libraries or community centers.

Broader use of online applications "is going to make it easier for students to apply error-free," said Allison G. Jones, a CSU assistant vice chancellor.

"It's convenient, it's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Susan Wilbur, director of undergraduate admissions at the Oakland headquarters of the UC system.

"It's also easy. Students are very familiar with using the Internet. They are increasingly comfortable with completing these kinds of forms online."

A poll last year by the National Assn. for College Admission Counseling, an organization of high school counselors and college admissions officers, found that 93% of the schools it surveyed offered the option of applying online, up from 79% three years earlier.

Judy Hingle, director for professional development with the association, said online applications reflect the need for students to be computer proficient. "It's a way of life on college campuses these days," she said. "Students very often e-mail papers to professors .... And the professor may e-mail back comments."

Merriah Fairchild, a higher education advocate for the California Public Interest Research Group, said the online application process also helps students locate information about application deadlines, financial aid and other key information.

"Most students, in this day and age, are very comfortable on the Web, and so this plays to their strength," she said. At the same time, Fairchild said her organization would monitor the CSU and UC programs to make sure they "don't create another barrier" for students who aren't Internet-savvy.

Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Assn. of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said the move by CSU and UC is certain to start a trend -- if it's successful. He said that some colleges and universities have held back on making a "wholesale conversion" to online-only systems because of concerns about the ability of all students to apply electronically. Nassirian praised CSU and UC for continuing to accept paper applications.

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