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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 26, 2000. All rights reserved.
Website Review: Ontap.Com
It’s college choosing time, and what’s a parent to
do? How can you find out what is truly important about your high school
senior’s options? When you are going to have to spend tens of thousands
of dollars annually in tuition and expenses, forget the official rankings
on academics. What might really matter is — will your kid be more
likely to party hearty at X, Y, or Z school? What’s the real deal
on student life?
Derek White, age 39, has some answers. He is president of www.Ontap.com,
a student-oriented website formerly owned by MarketSource at Exit
8A (www.marketsource.com). It was sold last fall for $22 million to www.I-turf.coom, which has a network
of sites targeting college kids and teens, and rents space at 2 Commerce
Drive from its former parent. White went to Indiana University of
Pennsylvania, Class of 1982, and has an MBA from the University of
Wisconsin at Madison (U.S. 1, May 29, 1996).
"We are building out the college underground, the students’ guide
to colleges and college living, not taking the academic angle but
concentrating on the qualitative life on campus," says White.
"We have content, message boards, and chat rooms, with a very
controlled environment for teens, monitored 24 hours a day." College
sites are unregulated.
Ontap.com was named to suggest the informality and free flow of tap
brews rather than canned presentations from college PR offices. The
areas include humor, v-dorm (live videos of dorm rooms), and sex and
social life, with such topics as "What is your life like when
you start sleeping with someone new?"
As part of the "College Underground," the site polls college
students on 27 student life topics. You as a parent can quietly access
these polls, logging in as either a prospective student or as a current
college student. Pick a factor, pick a state, pick a school. How good
is the school at helping you get a job? Princeton University scores
an 8 out of 10. The top ranked schools on this topic, predictably,
are the military academies.
Overall, Princeton University (www.princeton.edu) ranked 438 of 1,015 schools
— behind Wesleyan University, which ranked 168, but ahead of College
of New Jersey at 512. On a scale of 1 to 10, Princeton ranked in the
6s on partying, in the 7s on access to and quality of professors,
but only 4.65 in dating and 5.83 in social life.
Wesleyan scored higher on access to and quality of professors (8s),
and 6.3 on partying, and 7.7 in social life.
The College of New Jersey (www.tcnj.edu) ranked in the 7s on quality of and access
to professors, 6.07 on both dating and social life, but just 4.20
on partying. Now there’s a statistic that appeals to parents —
a better score on social life than on partying.
A "morality meter" with the challenge to "compare yours
with Bill’s" offers a lengthy questionnaire with such queries
as "have you ever used drug money to pay for your college education?"
The best (most moral) local scorer was Princeton Theological Seminary (www.ptsem.com)
which ranked 34 out of 1,299. NJIT was 677, Rutgers New Brunswick
was 740. College of New Jersey and Princeton were in the 800s, Rider
was 987, and Seton Hall was 1,150. But you have to wonder when one
school had no score and — if you have logged in as a student from
that school — you are invited to complete the survey so your school
will have a score. Just how complete is this anyway?
Claiming that the survey is very accurate, Ontap.com says it takes
surveys manually at on-campus events and also online, and that students
are prevented from having their online surveys count more than once.
More substantive answers might be obtained by using the site’s offer
to get high school students’ questions answered by a real student
from the prospective school — and not the "authorized"
student that the dean would pick, but from one of the site’s users.
I-turf has 6.5 million members of its various sites, some of which
are community sites and some pure commerce, with I-turf owning all
the products sold. "We started off as a commerce company because
we were a spinoff of Delias, a teen brand for girls. It’s a fun industry,
and we are starting to see a bit of the shakeout." From 75 to
90 percent of the companies in this space are predicted to fail. White
is not worried: "I-turf has a quarter billion page views a month
and 600 percent growth in sales and profits."
"It’s all about — and this is absolutely something I didn’t
understand a year ago — it’s not about putting something together
and marketing the heck out of it, but about doing content so well
and presenting it so well that people will come back," says White.
"I had thought it was about marketing, but really we are spending
little or no money on marketing. It is about quality, versus quantity.
I know it works if people E-mail their friends about it. That is a
good way to grow the business."
— Barbara Fox
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