USC researchers said Pathfinder targets students whose parents didn’t attend college, because those students are often left to navigate the demanding application process by themselves. And while some students have regular access to guidance counselors in high school, the average post-secondary U.S. public school has a student-counselor ratio of 460-to-1, according to 2008 statistics from the American School Counselor Association.

The association recommends a ratio of 250-to-1.

A proliferation of web-based advising sites like iAdmissions.com and Go4College.com has coincided with a national jump in college applications, according to the 2009 State of College Admissions report, released by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling in October.

The report, which used statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, showed that the average acceptance rate at four-year universities and colleges dropped from 71.3 percent in 2001 to 66.8 percent in 2007. This was partly owing to the 24 percent rise in applicants during that six-year span, according to the report.

College enrollment reached an all-time high in 2006, and enrollment numbers are expected to continue to climb until 2017, according to the admissions study. California’s ratio is closer to 1,000-to-1, according to research released last year by EdSource, a nonprofit organization that focuses on public policy research and analysis.

Edwin Brito, who graduated high school last week, said he piloted the Pathfinder video game after applying to eight colleges and universities. As he waits for responses, Brito said he wishes he had played the Pathfinder game before he sealed the envelope to his application papers.

“I didn’t expect for it to take so much time, but at the end, it was totally worth it,” said Brito, 18, who graduated from James A. Foshay Learning Center in Los Angeles. “I thought I knew a lot about college, but [Pathfinder] opened my eyes to things I didn’t know.”

Brito said the game’s competitive elements—fighting for a sought-after spot at a college with demanding academic requirements and high tuition—made Pathfinder interesting enough to play for an entire 90-minute session.

“I never expected it to be that much fun,” he said.

Links:

Pathfinder

Pew Internet & American Life Project video game study