"And we'll probably have to modify that (new) definition in six months or so," said Eric Weil of Student Monitor, the market-research firm that conducts the surveys.
Some 1,200 undergraduate students -- half male, half female -- at 100 colleges nationwide were polled last November, with 52 percent saying they used the Net at least once a day and the average student spending 5.6 hours a week online.
Weil said that used to be the definition of a "heavy Web user" -- until it broke 50 percent. The new measure -- 10 hours or more a week -- was met by 17 percent of the students surveyed.
The Net's influence on students goes way beyond academics, Weil added. His company surveys student trends in communications, financial services and auto purchases and in each one students are using the Web more for making decisions.
Where are they going?
School-related research is the number-one use cited, Weil said, but a ranking of most-often visited sites shows a variety of outside interests. Topping that list was ESPN (14 percent said they visited the sports site most often), followed by the book-seller Amazon (7 percent), MTV (5 percent) and then three news sites: CNN, New York Times and MSNBC (4 percent each).
JOBTRAK, a job database for college students, turned up next -- a finding that doesn't surprise Weil given the facts of life facing college seniors. Weil noted too that when students were asked to chose the site built for college students that they visited most often, JOBTRAK came out on top by a three-to-one margin over its nearest competition.
A summary of Student Monitor's survey is on its Web site at studentmonitor.com.