Schools attract students in virtual college fair program

With the college-application season in full swing, many high-school seniors are busy visiting schools and meeting with admissions representatives. But with a new online-admissions information program, applicants can connect to colleges throughout the country without leaving town — or even their bedrooms.

CollegeWeekLive, a virtual college fair designed to connect high-school students with colleges in the United States and Canada, launched its first online fair Nov. 13 and 14 in two eight-hour sessions over two days. Thousands of students from the United States and abroad and over 100 colleges — not including Yale — participated in the event, Michael Lewis, CollegeWeekLive’s vice president of marketing, said.

The fair, which was free of charge and open to anyone who registered through CollegeWeekLive’s Web site, offered several online features intended for both students and parents. After registering, participants logged in to the site, where they were greeted by a virtual campus and links to individual colleges’ virtual booths.

College-admissions officers and experts delivered live, streaming video presentations on topics ranging from writing college essays to applying for financial aid. The participating colleges offered school-specific presentations, instant-message and video chats with admissions representatives and other informational media.

Among the colleges represented at CollegeWeekLive were Amherst College, the University of Connecticut, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University and the University of Virginia. No Ivy League schools took part.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel cited timing constraints as the University’s principal reason for not participating in the fair this year.

“We are in the midst of reading a large number of early applications … and we anticipated that we would not be able to devote the necessary attention,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Yale received 4,820 early applications this fall — up 36 percent from last year.

The CollegeWeekLive Web site touts direct communication with admissions staff and students, a school search function and an easy, cost-free database of information about colleges.

“Our goal was to speak to prospective participants through the medium they are most comfortable with — through the Internet,” Lewis wrote in an e-mail.

Justin Petrillo ’11 said he thinks CollegeWeekLive would be helpful for prospective students who do not have the opportunity to visit schools.

But Petrillo said he thinks admissions officers and Web sites can only offer so much information about a college, especially one as well known as Yale. Visiting Yale, going on a tour and meeting students to get an idea of the “campus culture” were the most helpful ways for him to learn about the University, he said.

Many admissions representatives interviewed through CollegeWeekLive’s “Chat with Online Rep” feature said their schools participated in the fair in order to test the effectiveness of this new medium of interaction with prospective students.

Daniel Barr, assistant director of admissions at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, one of the participating colleges, said he thinks the fair was worthwhile.

“We believe this was a unique opportunity to have the ability to reach students we otherwise would be unable to,” he said in an online chat with the News during the fair. “We will strongly consider participating in this program in the future.”

But other admissions officials, such as Ohio University admissions advisor Kevin Witham, were less enthusiastic. Witham said the fair was not as well attended as he had anticipated and the response time of the Web site was slow. He said he does not think Ohio University will participate in future CollegeWeekLive fairs.

Despite the concerns of Witham and others, future fairs are in the works, Lewis said.

“We have plans in place to have four CollegeWeekLive programs in 2008, including two sessions in the spring and two in the fall,” he said.

Yale will monitor this and other programs that attempt to reach prospective students through the Internet, Brenzel said. He said he expects Yale’s admissions office to participate in the programs that prove valuable.

The idea for CollegeWeekLive, the first online college fair of its size, was developed by Robert Rosenbloom, CEO of PlatformQ, a company that produces virtual events.

The fair was free to visitors, but colleges paid between $495 and $2,000 for a booth, depending on the features they chose to offer, according to USA Today.

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