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More Colleges Break the News to Would-Be Students Online (Washn)

Washington — Jenna Kress sat down at her computer one recent evening to check the status of her application to the University of Georgia. The 17-year-old senior at Walt Whitman High School in Montgomery County, Md., let out a scream when video fireworks lighted up her screen.

She got in.

The next day she learned, also online, the fate of her bid for the University of Texas at Austin: She was denied.

“Didn’t really hit me that hard,” Kress said. “I was so on my Georgia high that I didn’t care that much.” Kress said she barely scanned the UT letter once she got the gist. “I didn’t need to read the other fluff they put in there to make me feel better.”

April 1 marks the height of decision season for colleges nationwide, a date by which most have told high school seniors whether they made the cut for next year. Like Kress, many students nationwide have learned to cope with the ups and downs of an admissions process utterly changed from the thick-or-thin envelope ritual their parents endured.

While some holdouts continue to rely only on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver the news, growing numbers of colleges have migrated to online notification in recent years, via websites or email.

At the same time, more students are applying to more schools in an effort to better their chances. More than 27 percent now apply to at least seven schools, a University of California at Los Angeles survey found, roughly double the share of a decade ago. Five percent now apply to a dozen or more schools, and many elite colleges report record or near-record totals of applications.

The flood of applications means that prestigious colleges are often delivering mass rejection via electronic form letters to several thousand or tens of thousands of students at once.

“The trick is to convey a sense of sympathy, understanding and respect through an online blurb,” said Greg Roberts, dean of admission at the University of Virginia.

A record 29,000 students applied to UVa. for this year’s entering class, up more than 50 percent from the total five years ago. Of the applicants to the coveted public university, 8,530 were offered admission. Decision letters were posted online at 5:30 p.m. March 21.

“Great care and attention to detail is given to every student who applies to the University,” the denial letter said. “Please know that these decisions are never easy, and we recognize and respect your accomplishments and talents.”

Inevitably in the social media era, such notifications trigger waves of online celebration, dejection and consolation through websites such as Facebook or College Confidential. UVa. itself gave students a forum to vent on the university’s official admission blog as soon as the letters were released.

“UVa. was my dream school, the place I’ve wanted to go to & what i worked towards my whole life,” one student wrote that evening. “Now I don’t really know what to do.”

“Here’s what you will do,” replied an admissions officer with the handle Dean JUVa. “You will pick one of the other schools. You will go there. You will have a FABULOUS time and cram your brain full of great ideas. It will be okay!”

Following tradition, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology posted its decisions electronically on March 14, or 3/14, a.k.a. Pi Day. But not at 1:59 p.m., as one might guess from the first digits of the mathematical constant: 3.14159. On weekdays, colleges generally prefer evening notification to ensure student privacy. MIT decisions went live at 6:28 p.m. on Pi Day, timed to echo the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its radius.

Eyal Hanfling, 17, a Whitman High School senior, was accepted by the University of Chicago. On Thursday he learned, while riding in a taxi in Costa Rica, that Harvard and Brown had turned him down. But Hanfling called that disappointment “ephemeral” and said he is “incredibly excited” about Chicago. The prestigious school sent him an item that is useful for the Windy City and impossible to deliver via e-mail: a congratulatory scarf. “Really cool,” he said.