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Internet applications prove increasingly popular

James Bond always had a thing for gadgets.

For many of almost 16,000 prospective Duke 007s, technology is the way to go.

Early and regular decision applicants for the Class of 2007 are using the Internet as their official means of contact with the University in rapidly escalating numbers, officials report.

This year, for the first time ever, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions offered its final early decisions on the Internet in mid-December several days before letters were to be sent home in the mail.

Within 15 minutes of their release, almost 45 percent of the applicant pool and more than half of those accepted had discovered their results. Most students eventually found out the decision online.

Director of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag said the process went flawlessly, with no reported delays or server crashes. Only a student with an old version of Netscape and those students unhappy with the University's decision called to complain.

December's premiere served as a trial for the regular decision process--when 10 times as many applicants could check their status--and Guttentag said the University will continue using the system.

Applicants were notified Dec. 11 via e-mail--almost every applicant supplied an e-mail address--that the decisions would be made available the next day at 5 p.m.

"Students were previously given an access code so that they could enter the website that would ultimately have their decision," Guttentag explained. "All the access code allowed them to do was create their own user ID and their own password to access the decision."

Security was a primary concern, especially following the recent controversy when a Princeton University admissions officer gained access to decisions on Yale University's website. Yale's system used easily available social security numbers to gain system entrance.

"We avoided what happened with Princeton and Yale because no information that someone could get from a public or private document was used for access," Guttentag said.

Admissions retained the old-fashioned route and sent official letters to applicants in the mail. This summer, several Medical School applicants were accepted online but received deferred or rejected letters in the mail, leading to confusion.

"The disadvantage of not being the first is that you are not right on the cutting edge, but you also get to learn from others how to safeguard as well as we could against problems and it worked great," Guttentag said.

Applying online has also become popular, with almost 66 percent more regular decision candidates expected to log on this year than last year.

Duke began offering the option to apply online three years ago. In its inaugural year, only 675 applicants chose that method. Two years ago, 1,000 went electronic, and last year 3,040 did so. So far this year, Guttentag's office has already downloaded 3,750 applications and expects to hit 5,000.

"It's quicker and it's using a medium that students are... increasingly more comfortable [with]--buying things online and having formal and official communication online," Guttentag said.

He noted that students can work on their applications wherever they have a computer-and perhaps most importantly for those with poor handwriting, the finished application is guaranteed to look neat.

"They know it's going to look good. They know it's going to be in a format they're comfortable with and they have the ability to revise up until the last second," he said. "Once you've put pen to paper it is very difficult to go back and change something without it looking messier."

Guttentag said, on a recent recruiting visit to New York, he spoke with a number of students who said they still prefer paper applications because they are tangible.

"For a lot of students this is the highest-stake activity they've been involved with so far in their lives," Guttentag said. "A lot of students still prefer to have something tangible as part of that process and know precisely what we are going to see. Eventually that will change, [maybe even] within the next five years."

He added that although his office needs to download and print every online application, the process is actually more efficient for his staff.

"In terms of someone sitting there and entering data, there are 5,000 applications where we do not need to manually enter the applicant data," Guttentag said. "It reduces the number of mistakes by us. Now if there are mistakes, they're by the students who filled out the forms."

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