College-Search SW Helps Counselors and Students

Most high school guidance counselors have tremendous workloads. Donald Sierakowski is no exception. At Tolland High School in Tolland, Connecticut, he and two other counselors serve 600 students, of which 85-90% go on to college. In addition to their other duties, Sierakowski and his colleagues are charged with helping every college-bound student find an institution of higher learning that's well-suited to his or her particular needs. Matching Tolland's Philosophy There are more than 3,600 post-secondary schools in the U.S. Since no counselor can know all of them intimately, it's increasingly common for counselors, students and parents to use computer databases to help with college searches. Sierakowski had tried several applications and found them difficult to use. "All the college-search software on the market was DOS-based and cumbersome," he says. "They didn't sort effectively, or you had to be trained to do a sort. All were dependent on the user's verbal fluency, but not everyone thinks best in a word environment." Thus many students struggled with the commands. Such frustrations easily lead to counselors doing college searches for the students, without involving them enough. "That's inconsistent with our philosophy," explains Sierakowski. "We're here to be advisers to students and parents. The software is a tool to help them make a good decision." So in November of 1993, Sierakowski acquired CollegeView for his school. "CollegeView is the first piece of first-class software written for student use," he feels. It's extremely easy to use, and "takes time and travel off the table when you're doing a search." Seminar for Parents & Students Tolland High puts on a half-day college/career planning seminar, 'Furthering Your Education,' that all juniors must attend with their parents. Students and parents must work together as a team. "We remind parents they're probably going to spend $80,000 to $120,000 on a college education," says Sierakowski, "the second-biggest investment they'll ever make." A common analogy makes the point. "You don't expect someone else to find a house for you," he says to parents. "When you look for a house, you define your criteria first and you do your own search." It's the same for selecting the right college. "We give you a road map, then we're here to help if you meet a roadblock. We don't find your school for you." Students make an appointment to use CollegeView the same way they would to see their counselor. Many are willing to stay after school to have their turn at the workstation. With CollegeView, students can go back and review their criteria or print them out. Criteria might include a school's academic program, its size, location, ethnic balance, and the division level of its sports programs. Using CollegeView is more fun-and more practical-than poring over catalogs. "More students are able to access information, and the access is faster and much more controllable by the student and/or parent," says Sierakowski. With its icons and point-and-click commands, "CollegeView d'es not penalize the student who isn't verbally fluent. Students love the pop-up 'help' people who appear on screen," he adds. Plus, when students do a search electronically, they come up with more schools they didn't already know about. Research performed by Message Factors, Inc. supports Sierakowski's experience. Their survey found that students prefer CollegeView over every other source of college information available in high schools. Indeed, 96% of juniors and 97% of sophomores surveyed found CollegeView to be important in their search, while 99% of the counselors surveyed said they would recommend the software to their students. How It Works CollegeView is a CD-ROM that works on either PC (DOS 5.0 or later) or Macintosh (System 7.0 or later) computers. It needs 8MB of RAM and 150MB of hard disk space, plus a double-speed CD-ROM drive and a modem. CollegeView's Workstation Purchase Program allows qualified schools to receive all the hardware and software they need to run the program for $695 a year. For software only, it's $395 a year. CollegeView is interactive. Students can use its InfoZap feature to send a message by modem to CollegeView in Cincinnati, Ohio, requesting more information about a chosen school. The firm contacts the school on the student's behalf and the school then responds to the student directly. Some colleges now accept electronic applications, and CollegeView makes it very easy for students to apply electronically to these selected schools. Sierakowski feels CollegeView is easy to install and learn. "If you can plug in a plug, you're on your way." Online tutorials are built-in; no special training is required. Bottom line is that CollegeView helps Sierakowski fulfill his school's mission. "The counselor's time is put to better use, helping students evaluate the results of a search, rather than doing the search for them."

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.

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