Each August, over 7 million students matriculate into this nation’s institutions of higher learning. But a surprisingly large portion of these students don’t find the vaunted college experience right away. Over the course of their college careers, a whopping 2.3 million students, or over a third of America’s student body, will decide to leave their home institutions in pursuit for a better start somewhere else.
The evolution of college culture, be the growth of extravagant college social events, clubs and fraternities, as well as the explosion of pre-professional focused groups and programs, has diversified the college experience. Given that many students grow into their own molds during their collegiate experience, it’s expected that schools gradually become a great fit for some while others are left out of the fold. Selecting a college for academics alone, given the wide selection of universities that offer equally competitive programs, has become a benchmark of the past. But with more choices comes more confusion– making a good college choice involves many factors whose clarity is often polluted with stereotypes cast on online forum boards and hyperbole presented by overly-optimistic school pamphlets.
This has led to an incredibly high transfer rate, a fact that is problematic because it wastes time, energy and, for many students, far too many tuition dollars.
However, some students have begun to work to alleviate this issue through recent initiatives that attempt to make the college decision more transparent and informative.
One startup in particular, named UProspie, is providing something outside the official perspective of the campus tour with the hope that more students can make the right college choice the first time around. To do this, they leverage the most reliable sources of information: the school’s students. UProspie is a matching service that connects current prospective students (known to the service as prospies) with college students. The service has two components: first, it provides personalized tours with intelligently matched student hosts for a nominal fee. Second, the platform offers online communication channels between prospective students and hosts. Host profiles are displayed publicly, and include the student’s major, hobbies and interests. On the platform, prospies can surf candid college photos uploaded by hosts, ask questions via school-specific info feeds, and browse reviews of hosts they may consider as private tour guides.
Ostensibly, UProspie may seem like just a commercialized tour guide process; something that is already available at many schools for free. But the company states that their mission isn’t to replace the generic group tour; people who use UProspie as a service may still go on an admission office sanctioned tour or event to receive the general statistics or a second opinion on campus. Rather, as Jason Li, one of the co-founders of UProspie, states: “UProspie aims to connect a prospective student with someone who’s been in those shoes. That way, they can better assess how cultural, interest-based, and academic characteristics are treated at each school they’re interested in.”
But is the introduction of such service really a good thing for most students? At first glance, many may balk at the idea of paying someone for a tour. College admissions has already become a very commercialized world; many students hire personal college counselors to scour over essays and applications. Products like Admitsee offer services to help students get into the school of their dreams, given them an advantage over often less-financially supported students. But Mathew Pregasen, another co-founder who leads the web development of the UProspie platform, notes that “UProspie is aimed at alleviating the college selection process, not admission. We are trying to help more students have better college experiences, without trying to tell them how best to beat out their peers at the most selective institutions. That being said, understanding how you can fit in at a particular school can be a very strong message in an admissions essay.” And while many top colleges already offer free campus tours and overnight weekends, students are almost always paired randomly with volunteer hosts. Often, visits are also subject to stringent scheduling constraints. Due to concerns about student liability with current overnight programs, the company has decided to limit visits from 7am to 7pm, a compromise between giving students more scheduling freedom and being mindful about treating users who are minors.
But outside the top 50, many schools don’t even facilitate their own campus visits. That’s one of the reasons UProspie is garnering interest from a wide range of colleges, serving incredibly diverse student groups.
This isn’t to say that UProspie hasn’t had its critics. When posted in the popular Overheard at UChicago Facebook page, the company fell under fire from students associated with the college’s admissions office. For some, the idea of paying for a personalized college tour may seem unnecessary. But the project’s team has held firm: UProspie is built for people who want a pre-arranged meeting with a student they share interests with, giving college students an off-the-record voice to pass down their practical wisdom. And given the millions of students who move in to college only to leave soon afterwards, UProspie hopes to help students avoid the financially and often emotionally strenuous experience of having to transfer.
So for many students, meeting a host with the right answers to tough questions could make a good deal of sense. While a school may have a renowned program for chemistry, for instance, the illustrious professors who belong to the program may not shoulder the burden of interacting with students. Or for an outgoing student, a school with a more mellow social environment may feel lacking, even if their academic offerings match their hopes and dreams.
How much does it cost to use such a service? UProspie is pricing personalized tours at around $30.00 per session. Addressing students for whom the price of college visitation is difficult, Raymond Han, a co-founder who leads the internal operations and product development at UProspie, explains, “we’re trying to build UProspie into a valuable resource for any student with access to the internet, so that even if you don’t have the resources to make it all the way to campus, you can still access the critical information that you need to make an informed decision.” He further stated that most of the money charged is used to pay student hosts and campus leaders, while a portion of the remaining commission is taken to help fund initiatives to subsidize campus visits for select student demographics.
College students can continue to register to become hosts for the service, providing tours on their own schedule. And as of a few days ago, the platform has opened up to all prospective students.
The start of this school year is the first for UProspie, and according to its enthusiastic team composed of college kids from an assortment of schools and backgrounds, it is going to be one better for prospective students across the country.