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Since its inception in November 2007, the entirely free and entirely online college fair known as CollegeWeekLive has expanded its repertoire of universities, adding UCI this year.

Though it offers all the amenities and features of an actual college fair, including video chat with students, faculty, advisors and financial aid people and even has a virtual world reminiscent of a real college fair’s auditorium setting, UCI does not intend to replace its physical orientation programs with this fair.

CollegeWeekLive is primarily for students who either cannot attend college weeks due to monetary reasons, or for students who simply prefer to peruse a buffet of universities on a familiar medium, the Internet. However, the site also allows registration by parents, college faculty members, high school counselors and journalists.

Once registered, students are treated to the virtual lobby of a hypothetical university with “tables” laid out for each college. Currently, the major participating schools in California include UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz and Stanford University. The Universities of California are generally grouped together and they will each have a live broadcast on the website again on Oct. 10. There are, however, archived Q&A sessions on the site, each 49 minutes long.

“CollegeWeekLive lets us extend our reach to a broader audience of students that might not be able to visit with us on campus due to travel costs or time constraints. Prospective students from 38 states attended our virtual open house, while students from only 12 states attend our on-campus events.” said Gil Rogers, associate director of admissions at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.

A typical session begins with one or two representatives from a particular department at the University, such as the booth session with UCI Admissions Counselors Amanda Napier and Monique Davis.

Against a backdrop of UCI paraphernalia including a stuffed anteater, they sit in front of a webcam and computer screen and answer questions instant messaged to them from students all over the country. Chancellor Michael Drake conducted one such session on April 23, 2010, a nod to UCI’s increasing need for enrollment and its openness to new methods.

“Institutions are using this solution in innovative ways. Some colleges focus on reaching goals at different stages of the enrollment process, while others leverage virtual campus events to engage hard-to-reach cohorts like international and out-of-state students,” said Robert Rosenbloom, president and CEO of CollegeWeekLive.

UCI’s “Report of the Task Force on Non-Resident Student Recruitment and Enrollment,” written on Dec. 18, 2009, sought to devise a plan to raise $5 million by encouraging the enrollment of approximately 250 more non-resident students. In a 2009 survey of international and out-of-state freshman students, out of 1,250 admitted students, only 113 enrolled at UCI. Similarly, out of 903 admitted transfer students, only 168 enrolled. An additional 244 students, each paying $22,669 including the non-resident fee, would bring the university $5, 531,226. Virtual open houses like CollegeWeekLive help both students and universities by saving the former money on travel costs and the latter money on organizational costs.

“By moving our fall open house online, we cut 87 percemt of the cost and doubled the qualified number of students attending,” said the Director of Undergraduate Recruitment at UC Riverside, Emily Engelschall.

At the moment, UCI’s primary online orientation is on the Dean of Students’ site in the form of Zot Start, a compulsory course that teaches new students about the UCI policies and procedures. Representatives from both the office of the Dean of Students and from the Office of Admissions still encourage all new students, resident or non-resident, to try to physically experience the campus first.

However, given its student-friendly interface and the fact that it’s free, CollegeWeekLive offers a tempting alternative.

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