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Rankings, college Web sites influencing students’ choices

By Shaena Engle
Freshmen are spending less time studying or doing homework and more time using the Internet in the year prior to entering college, according to the results of the University of California at Los Angeles’ annual survey of the nation’s students entering undergraduate classes at four-year colleges and universities. Additionally, the survey found that, despite the continued decline in time devoted to schoolwork, students’ high school grade averages continues to climb.

The fall survey, now in its 37th year and conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, found that a record-low number (33.4 percent) of today’s entering freshmen reports studying or doing homework six or more hours per week during their senior year in high school. This figure is down from last year’s previous low of 34.9 percent and a high of 47 percent in 1987, when the question was first asked. The percentage of students studying less than one hour per week has nearly doubled (from 8.5 to 15.9 percent) over the past 15 years.

Frequent use of personal computers hit a record 83.9 percent in 2002, compared to 82 percent last year.

The 2002 freshman norms are based on the responses of 282,549 students at 437 of the nation’s baccalaureate colleges and universities.

High school grade averages climb

Today, 45.7 percent of freshmen report earning “A” averages in high school, compared to the record high of 44.1 percent last year and a low of 17.6 percent in 1968. The proportion of entering freshmen with “A” averages from high school varies widely by institutional type. Seven out of 10 students attending private universities (69.6 percent) earned “A” averages in high school, compared with only three out of 10 (34.4 percent) at public four-year colleges. Grades also varied by gender, with 50.1 percent of today’s entering female freshmen having earned “A” averages in high school, versus 40.4 percent of men.

More students settle for ‘lower-choice’ school

Students are applying to more colleges than in the past (13.7 percent apply to seven or more colleges, up from 13.6 percent last year and 8.3 percent in 1991). The percentage applying to seven or more colleges is six times higher than it was during the 1960s. More than two-thirds (69.2 percent) of students are attending their first-choice institution, but this percentage has declined steadily over time from 71.9 percent in 1999 and 79.7 percent in 1977.

More students are considering college rankings published in national magazines and information from college Web sites when deciding which school to attend. When asked the extent to which publicized rankings in national magazines were influential in their decision to enroll at their present institution, 13.3 percent say the information was “very important” (up from 11.1 percent last year).

Web information was also “very important” in deciding to attend a particular college for 11.1 percent of today’s freshmen (up from 8.5 percent last year and 6.8 percent in 2000). Women are comparatively more likely than men to consider Web site information in selecting their undergraduate college (12.2 percent versus 9.6 percent).

Drinking, smoking and partying continue to decline

Despite increasing student support for legalizing marijuana, student smoking, drinking and partying is on the decline. The percentage of incoming freshmen who smoke cigarettes frequently has dropped for the fourth straight year, reaching a 15-year low of 7.4 percent (down from 8.6 percent last year and a high of 15.2 percent in 1967). Entering freshmen are also drinking and partying less. An all-time low 46.5 percent report drinking beer “frequently” or “occasionally” during the past year, down from 47.1 percent last year and a high of 73.7 percent in 1982. The percentage that consumes wine or liquor declined to an eight-year low of 52.5 percent, down from 53.7 percent in 2001 and a high of 67.8 percent in 1987. The number of hours per week spent on “partying” also declined, with 25.1 percent of entering freshmen reporting that they spend six or more hours per week partying, down from 26.8 percent last year and a high of 36.8 percent in 1987. Additionally, there has been a steady increase in the percentage of students who spend little or no time partying. In 2002, 35.8 percent of freshmen reported that in a typical week the amount of time they spend partying is “none.”

Rising interest in the arts and law, declining interest in business

Freshmen express greater interest in the arts than most previous entering classes. Desire for artistic expression is reflected in the record number who aspire to “become accomplished in one of the performing arts” (16.1 percent, up from 14.8 percent last year and a low of 9.3 percent in 1968). Students also are more interested in majoring in the arts and pursuing related careers, with 5.8 percent reporting their intent to major in art, music, speech and theater or drama.

Freshman interest in legal careers is also on the rise, reaching its highest point (4.3 percent) in eight years.

While student interest in the law and the arts continues to rise, interest in business is on the decline, decreasing for the third consecutive year to 16.2 percent (down from 16.6 percent last year and 16.8 percent in 2000). Today’s entering freshmen also are notably less drawn to pursuing business careers (13.8 percent compared to 23.9 percent who planned business careers in 1986). The specific aspiration to become a business executive (currently at 7.7 percent) shows an especially marked decline (down from 8.2 percent last year and 8.8 percent in 2000) relative to aspirations for other business-related pursuits. For more information, go to this Web site:

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Publication date: January 31, 2003
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