How tech can make selecting the right college easier for students

By Bridget McCrea
December 2nd, 2015

2 companies use data to make it easier for selecting the right college to fit student needs

finding-collegeUnlike the discerning “sorting hat” featured in Harry Potter—which takes its time to analyze every budding wizard’s brain to figure out which of the four houses of Hogwarts is right for him or her—the college selection is a pretty arbitrary process.

Most of the time it’s based on geographic location, availability of specific majors, a family attachment, or even a favorite collegiate sports team. Unless students are proactive about seeking help, most receive very little support in this area; middle schoolers get even less attention.

Yet when 17- or 18-year-old high school graduates get to college, they’re supposed to know not only what they want to do for the next four to five years—but also for the rest of their lives.

“There are so many higher education choices for students to pick from, how are they supposed to make the right selection?” asks Lily Matos DeBlieux, superintendent at the Pendergast Elementary School District in Phoenix. “These decisions are difficult enough for adults, let alone for kids. What if the school isn’t a good fit? What if it’s not a good socioeconomic match? What if the culture isn’t what you thought it would be? These are important questions that can’t be answered by taking a college tour.”

No snap decisions

These things can bog down the average student, who at such a young age really doesn’t understand the long-term implications of his or her decision. “This is a lifetime commitment,” said DeBlieux, “and they need tools that can help them make the best possible decisions.”

A couple of companies are taking a stab at the problem and using technology to help students make better choices when selecting a college. In Washington, D.C., vibeffect has developed an algorithm-based, college-decision framework platform that students and families can use to scientifically narrow down their choices. This “unbiased, fact-based lens” costs $96 (per report) and uses a list of 66 different variables associated with the individual and measures those variables against the features of over 1,000 colleges.

vibeffect’s individual variables include things like whether a prospective applicant has held a job, whether he or she likes working independently or on a team, and if the person is apt to ask for help (or not). On the college side, vibeffect factors in a school’s use of innovative teaching techniques, transportation options, and social opportunities. “Through that,” said Elena Maria Cox, co-founder and CEO, “we’re able to create correlations between an individual and the campus features that will help them thrive.”

Next page: Technology eases student-counselor conversations