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Life may have gotten a little easier for college-bound students looking to save time and money. With the click of a mouse, high school students across the country can bargain online for college and university tuition discounts. -- an online service that debuted in October -- works to match students with academically and financially compatible schools, to give the students a head start in the college application process. The service is free to students and their families. Colleges and universities pay a $2,000 annual fee for access to the applicant pool. Almost 1,000 students and seven institutions have registered with eCollegebid, and the site's Executive Director Tedd Kelly said he expects at least another 12 colleges and universities to join by the end of the month. "No matter how badly a student wants to go to college or how badly a college wants that student, if a student can't afford it, there are two choices -- [he] can borrow beyond what [he] probably should borrow or can choose less expensive colleges," Kelly said. The site aims to settle the cost factor at the beginning of the application process, saving students the disappointment of receiving inadequate financial aid packages and cutting down on institutions' recruitment time. "It is a win-win situation for both the student and the college," Kelly said. Students visiting the site post the amount they can afford to pay for a college education and their personal academic profiles -- including grade point average and standardized test scores. eCollegebid then matches students' ability or willingness to pay with institutions that might offer them tuition discounts. After eCollegebid matches students with institutions, the students and the schools can discuss application details. The site also gives the schools' admissions officers a chance to review students' academic records. Joyce Smith, executive director of the National Association of College Admissions Counseling -- a consortium of high school guidance counselors and college admissions officers -- said she initially had a few reservations about the service. "We had some concerns that [eCollegebid] gave the impression that students would avoid some of the additional [application] requirements, such as filling out financial aid forms," Smith said. But she added that after meeting with Kelly, she realized that he stresses that the site should only be thought of as the beginning of the college application process. Smith said she hopes students and their families realize that the service will not simplify the paperwork involved in applying for financial aid. "It's a novel way for families to explore college tuition options, but I hope it is not the only way that families pursue [financial aid]," Smith added. According to Kelly, eCollegebid is designed for second-, third- and fourth-tier schools, many of which use the service to attract students to their less popular majors, and to make themselves known to students from under-represented areas of the country. Seton Hill College in Greensburg, Pa., is one of the schools using the site. Barbara Hinkle, vice president for enrollment services at the college, said eCollegebid fits the school's mission to be entrepreneurial and technologically up-to-date. "Knowing that students today definitely use the Internet, [eCollegebid] is a make-ourselves-known initiative," Hinkle said.

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