The use of the Internet within the college search process of high school juniors and seniors

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Higher Education

First Committee Member

Anne Hocutt - Committee Chair


The decisions involved in choosing a college are regarded as some of the most important in a lifetime. A number of studies, typically surveys of college freshmen, have been conducted on this decision making process. However, few studies have collected data from high school students or explored the use of the Internet as a new tool in the college search process (Hartman, 1998; Strauss, 1998).Therefore, this research employed qualitative methods to explore and describe how high school students use the Internet as a research tool in the pre-disposition and search stages of college choice. Following a pilot study, 66 high school students participated in a series of eight focus groups. The data were analyzed using the Ethnograph software program. Additionally, the data were sorted within and across the subgroups for analyses of frequency (how often a point was made) and extensiveness (how many students made the point). Finally, the patterns were grouped into themes describing in depth these students' use of the Internet in the college search process.Findings were that students sought official information provided by the college administration, but also sought "unofficial information" from other sources (e.g., chatrooms) on the campus and information from outside the campus, e.g., the local newspaper. Searches were both exploratory and targeted, and more often than not, a second step in the process. Some students used the Internet to verify information provided by the college; some preferred the Internet because they disliked other means of college-student interaction. Within subgroups studied, recruited athletes used the Internet to find loopholes in eligibility regulations, while students recruited for academic reasons researched financial aid and program funding. Juniors recruited both academically and athletically conducted more targeted searches.Future research in other schools might replicate the study to corroborate, add to, and/or modify the findings in this study. Further, some findings in this study that have not appeared in previous literature, e.g., use of the Internet to verify information provided by a college or use of the Internet by recruited athletes, might be studied in more depth. Finally, future qualitative studies might be followed by quantitative (survey) studies so that statistical generalization of the findings can be determined.


Education, Guidance and Counseling; Education, Secondary; Education, Higher

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