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Web Smarts

what: if you have shoe boxes full of glossy college brochures piling up and you don't have enough cash to fly to prospective schools, don't fret. This site tells you - and shows you - everything about American colleges and universities. This is becoming the preferred way for high school students to review places of higher education. A study done by a Baltimore-based research firm found 78 percent of high school seniors reviewed prospective colleges online in 1998 compared with only 4 percent in 1996.

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BEST POINTS: Search for the college of your choice by its name or the state in which it is located. Many schools have interactive maps. Buildings can be clicked on and facts and pictures of them will be displayed. Look at dormitories, classrooms, and descriptions of universities. "Tours" can be as simple as a description of buildings and photos of them, but "virtual tours" may include 360-degree panoramic views from various campus locations. Some schools even introduce you to students who explain different departments. Financial-aid information, Web cams that take pictures from a specific vantage point, and links to each college's home page are also available.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Many schools do not include virtual tours, just still images and text. Some tours require browser plug-ins such as Real Video, Quick Time, or Live Picture. There are links where you can download these for free.

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