Picking a college is probably the single biggest decisions that any teenager faces. And, there’s a lot of assumptions and stereotypes that come with it. You have to be a stellar athlete, have amazing test scores or a 4.0 GPA. Even if you’ve got the grades, not every kid grows up knowing they want to go to OSU or Harvard.
With 2,000 plus four-year colleges in the U.S., there really is something for everybody. But how do students find it? Columbus-based CollegeEase presents an interactive platform that helps showcase students’ talents while matching them with colleges that might be a good fit based on their backgrounds and interests.
“We just want to give colleges a broader view of what students are available, and the students a broader view of the limitless possibilities that exist in education,” says CollegeEase Co-Founder Clifton Sparrow.
Simplistic at its core – match students with universities – the mutually beneficial platform is a game-changer.
On the student side, individuals log on to CollegeEase and create a profile for themselves that includes their basic information like high school, test scores and GPA. But the platform thinks of a student as more than just their numbers.
“We allow students to put those interests and activities in,” says Co-Founder Demetrius Curry. Students can also upload photos and videos. There’s a big difference between a student saying they were a soloist in their school choir, and an admissions officer actually hearing it.
It’s also advantageous for instances when students want to showcase their experience that falls outside of the traditional markers and extracurriculars. For example, Curry says think about a student that may be trying to get in a culinary program. Many schools don’t have home economics programs anymore, but the student has pursued their interest in cooking at home and has photos or videos of their work. Admissions officers can use CollegeEase to see a student’s talent.
An intelligent match features points out schools that might be a good fit based on a student’s interests. And, as a part of the process, students also pick five universities they are interested in which leads to a fury of activity on the platform.
First, CollegeEase looks to engage students with the universities they are interested in.
“One of the best things about it, we built a platform to meet students where they are currently,” Curry says. “We built all of this around a social media aggregator system.”
CollegeEase pulls the social media feeds of a student’s stop five. It also allows students to interact with others who are interested in the same school. The founders see it as a form of motivation. Students want to keep their grades up and stay focused if they have built relationships with peers they might be in school with one day.
One of the biggest advantages of CollegeEase is its ability to spark interaction between students and schools, of which feedback is a huge part.
The platform integrates a one click feedback systems for admissions officers.
“We got the top six responses that most advisors would give, but we also allow them to customize it,” Curry says. Feedback includes suggestions like raise your GPA, do more community service or get a letter of recommendation. It’s giving students real-world recommendations on what they can do to have a better shot at their dream school.
“Now it’s just inspiring hope in kids that, wow, a college is actually going to talk to me even if I’m not a 3.9, 4.0 student,” Sparrow adds.
There’s also big advantages on the university side. Feedback is easier, specialized colleges within a university like nursing or business can search for their own students, and it’s giving some lesser-known schools with solid programs a name.
“We’ve built a very detailed search systems to promote engagement for those smaller colleges to be able to find the students and reach out and engage with them, and it basically levels the playing field,” Curry says. “We’ve leveled the playing field on the student aspect side by engaging freshman year and creating that entire engagement system. And on the university side, we’ve leveled that playing field because now a smaller school, say a Capital, can engage on the same level as say, The Ohio State University.”
CollegeEase is free for students and on a tiered payment system for universities based on enrollment. Students are encouraged to start their Freshman year, but as the student advances through their education, use changes from more course correction, here’s what I need to do, to here are the possibilities.
Students can sign up through their district (an agreement with Columbus Public is in the works) or as an individual. Within the next few weeks, CollegeEase expects to have 40,000 to 50,000 students using the platform. They are setting a conservative estimate of one million users by the end of the summer.
When it comes to matching students with colleges, a school does have to be in the CollegeEase platform, and the founders are working to rapidly expand that list. Initial roll out includes all the schools in the Big 10, Pac-12 and Ivy League. They will also be adding 100 plus historically black colleges in conjunction with work they doing with UNCF and the Thurgood Marshall Foundation. Finally, all four-year Ohio schools will be added.
CollegeEase has been well-received all-around.
“Feedback has been fantastic from both administrators, college admissions officers that we’ve shown this to, registrars and students,” Curry says.
With the platform up and running, the founders are working on addressing and entering the backlog of high schools and colleges that are interested in engaging with the platform. It’s even garnered international attention, thanks in part to its incubator and investor, Endeavor Forward.
“We see a lot of things that come in that our initial reaction is this may or may not go somewhere,” says Endeavor Forward Founder Luke Westerman. “It’s pretty rare that on a first meeting we’ll feel chemistry with the presenters and we’ll feel that the business they are presenting to us has legitimate legs.”
He says they knew they had something special right away with CollegeEase.
The platform had gained some traction before landing at Endeavor Forward. In late 2013 they participated in Google for Entrepreneurs Week through another accelerator and won best pitch. A direct quote they often refer to, Google said, “Do you realize what you’ve got here?”
“The lightbulb went off for them instantly, it went off for us instantly,” Westerman says.
Curry says that since working with Endeavor Forward things have gone from fast to light speed. Their resources have helped with “pretty much everything you could possibly need,” from finances to strategy and engagement.
“These guys have been just a joy to work with,” Westerman says. “Incredibly bright. Incredibly coachable.”
Before starting CollegeEase, both Curry and Sparrow worked with youth. They saw so many kids that would graduate high school, but there was no what’s next. They didn’t realize college could be a possibility.
“Something has to change,” Sparrow thought. “If there is something I can do to change this, I would.” When the partners met through mutual friends and talked about their “crazy” ideas to help high schoolers, “I immediately knew it was my life calling,” Sparrow says.
For more information, visit collegeease.net.