College Fairs Go Online

Friday, October 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) — Colleges fairs used to mean fighting through pushy crowds, gathering stacks of useless literature and trudging home with unanswered questions.

So the National Association for College Admission Counseling thought it had found the solution when it put the whole thing online Thursday.

Then the Web site crashed.

The initial three-hour fair was cut short when too many people signed on at once and the server broke down, leaving chat rooms inaccessible.

Once the technical glitches were resolved, the fair was scheduled to run for a day or two each month through April.

About 1,200 people registered for the fair before Thursday, but more than 5,000 signed on in the first 15 minutes, NACAC spokesman Mark Cannon said.

``We were victims of our own success,'' he said. ``We hoped this was a problem we could avoid and now believe it is just a hiccup. We have the state-of-the-art technology we need to make this work.''

More than 200 colleges from across the country have signed up to participate in the virtual fairs. The system will allow parents and students to ask questions, take virtual tours of campuses, and chat with students, graduates, professors and admissions counselors.

The idea is to make information about colleges more accessible to students without access to college fairs, and to those who live abroad or can't afford to visit a faraway school.

Just as they would at traditional college fairs, each school has its own ``exhibit room'' — where it lists vital statistics, answers questions and provides links to other relevant sites.

At Boston University, admissions counselors spent the afternoon in front of their computers, answering questions for students patient enough to wait out the technical mishap.

``Ultimately, this will be a great tool to reach students who can't come see us before applying,'' counselor Susan Stofira said. ``That is, so long as the server stops crashing.''

Interactive Software of Boston developed the site's software. The technical problems were impossible to predict, company president Michael Bruck said.

NACAC runs 60 traditional college fairs across the country every year, but for students at East Grand Rapids High School in Michigan, the closest one is in Detroit — three hours away.

For those students, an online fair is ideal, said Zay Reynolds, a guidance counselor at the school, which held its College Day on Thursday.

``Later, they can travel to see the colleges firsthand,'' Reynolds said.

In Flemington, N.J., guidance counselors at Hunterdon Central Regional High School kept the school open late so students could use the computer lab for the evening fair.

``Not every college can send a representative out to every high school to meet the kids,'' counselor Barbara Blowen said. ``But the Internet is accessible to everyone. This way, all they need is a computer.''