Because You Asked: Tools To Help Students Apply To College

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"My son is applying to college this fall, and we’re all overwhelmed. Are they any tools that can help us?"

Getting into college ain’t what it used to be. Today, college admissions counselors, private coaches, parents, and students form a team that focuses for years on receiving the big envelope from the likes of Harvard, Yale, Williams, and Amherst. Problematically, as colleges and universities receive more applications, their admissions process grows ever more opaque. Would a B in AP calculus help me more than an A in statistics? Should I play the violin or trombone? Should we move to a better zip code?

A few promising startups are trying to answer these and other questions in an effort to help those families who don’t have the thousands of dollars some folks are spending just to help a kid get into a school. It’s a realm of education ripe for real disruption.

ApplyKit

My first candidate was ApplyKit, a sleek-looking web-based platform for organizing the application process. Create an account, and you are taken to your Dashboard. Here, ApplyKit reminds students of upcoming deadlines. Students can also add collaborators--e.g., parents, counselors, etc.--who can monitor their progress. Other sections of the site offer limited functionality. The school search portal pulls basic information about schools like number of students and location. The folders tab confusingly features a rich-text editor, presumably for your essays and other application materials. While it is helpful to have these various elements of the application process concentrated in a single place, none of the components of this platform are robust or useful enough to replace the mish-mash of products students are using already, like Google Docs, a separate calendar, and, of course, the CollegeBoard site.

CollegeBoard and the BigFuture portal

The CollegeBoard has a site chock full of information about applying to college. To help students find the information they need most, CollegeBoard developed the BigFuture portal. Students can find a great deal of data on colleges, from the quality of their facilities to average tests scores and GPAs. The academic tracker helps students ensure that they meet minimum requirements for applying, such as adequate courses in each subject and appropriate standardized tests. For the most part, the data only goes as deep as what you might find in the U.S. News & World reports. It is, however, separated into sexy-looking categories and connected to your list of colleges through the portal. Still, CollegeBoard’s strength is primarily in the articles that help students who know very little about colleges and the application process to get started. Once a student is beyond this initial stage, it’s time to look elsewhere.

Startups: Parchment

Parchment, Cappex, and Yaphie are working to make up for what CollegeBoard lacks. Founded in 2003, Parchment has established a solid business model upon the secure digital transmission of transcripts. They’ve built an impressively accurate tool for predicting college admission results using the data collected from these transcripts in tandem with past admission results. I manually input my high school transcripts, and Parchment predicted results for me that fairly closely mirrored the results I received when I applied. I highly recommend current high school students use it to build their list. Parchments assistance ends here, and might serve you best a complement to other tools.

Startups: Cappex

Cappex strives to be a bit more. It is a well-organized, information-rich site. Though its admissions predictions were less accurate than others, it shines in directing students toward scholarships, no doubt a useful feature. The “Visits” section offers easy-to-use tools for planning school visit, and the “Colleges” tab will help you keep track of where you are applying and what you will need to complete the application.

Startups: Yaphie

Yaphie is the new kid on the block. Launched as a beta (really, alpha) in early March, Yaphie seems the most promising entrant. The stated mission of the company is to provide services that help kids get into college from the moment they start high school. Almost 500 students have already registered.

Like its competitors, you can enter your SAT or ACT scores, grades, curriculum map, extra curriculars, and personal information like address, race, and religion (all significant factors for college admissions). Yaphie’s algorithm evaluates your chances at schools of your choosing and recommends others at which to apply, from “reach” to “safety”. Mohit Shah, co-founder, reported a 99% level of accuracy, verified by where students actually did or didn’t get in. Yaphie also explains why it gives that rating, whether it’s the classes you took, your SATs, or something else.

Yaphie’s big-ticket functionality is the curriculum mapping tool, which recommends courses and other features of an application to high school students based on the data collected from previous users who have applied to college. If this data is as accurate and information-rich as reported, it has significant implications for students everywhere. It can inform how students make decisions from 9th grade on, especially those millions of students without the luxury of expert (and expensive) counseling.  What’s more, the algorithm is learns from all the data collects, so the more users Yaphie collects, the better able it is to give advice. The balance of power can swing back to students and away from admissions officers.

Yaphie is still very much in beta mode. The site is slow to load and crashes regularly. Only a few of their planned services are functional. Eventually, they plan to include a crowd-funding module to boost community service credentials, a platform to connect students with tutors and flipped videos to improve grades, “Meet the Dean’ chats, and a portal to streamline applications, all of which will share data to improve core services. I can’t recommend registering for Yaphie now, but it is absolutely the platform to watch. The company is working to receive endorsements from the American School Counselors Associations, National Honors Society, FBLA, which speaks to its credibility. If Yaphie delivers on its promise, it can be a game-changing tool for the college admissions process. Until then, I’m afraid you’ll need a full toolbox. Good luck!

For links to other "student transition" tools, check out these EdSurge links.

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