Yesterday, October 2nd, 2017, became our special day: we have finally published our first mobile app at Google Play Store! We are working on making the app public at AppStore as well and will announce once it's available.
Today, I would like to share a story how this app was born.
Now that the app is available for all the Android users to download, I thought it’s a good time to acquaint you with it and share a story on how this startup was born.
What Inspired the Development of this App?
In the U.S., there are around 4,700 colleges and every year, approximately 14 million American high school students have to make their first big life decision, which is college admission.
"Is college worth going to?"
"If yes, how to get into one?"
"Which course or college is right for me?"
Students and their families often struggle with these questions and then try research answers by themselves. Now there are many sources they can refer – they can research on Google, visit campuses during the summer break or reading a popular college application guidebook. But do they come out to be really helpful? Well, actually not! After shuffling through several such resources, most of them realize the following.
"I need an advice specific to me. Not a general information or 'it-depends' advice"
So in order to get a personalized advice, they often visit school counselors. But except for a handful of resourceful schools, school counselors are too busy to deliver tailored counseling to them. Indeed, according to American School Counselor Association, the ratio of school counselor to students is 1:491! It's pretty understandable that counselors are situated in a prohibitive environment even if he/she is super smart and works very efficiently.
Failing to receive personalized advice from school counselors, students and their families then resort to professional admission counselors.
There are a number of independent and corporate college admission counseling services that are absolutely helpful. However, the problem is that some families can't afford their services. Another issue is that even if families have enough budget to invest in them, they still struggle with finding consultants/counselors who fit individual students' needs.
So after spending hours on Google, standing up on the line for 20 minutes until talking with school counselors, and picking up private admission counselors from limited options, a student finally gets into the college somehow but unfortunately, this is not the end of the story!
Simply put, families have to write a check in the future. Without thinking out about themselves and researching well about colleges, students tend to change their majors after getting into colleges. Surprisingly, USA Today College says 80% of four-year college students change majors. Students are highly likely required to take additional credits and miss to transfer credit, ending up graduating not on time. Once students overruns, a statistics shows that they spend additional 6 to 18 months to graduate. Families have to pay extra tuition which according to the recent trend is outpacing income gains. Not only paying extra tuition, but families also need to consider opportunity cost (delayed income). I performed an analysis based on these statistics to estimate how much economic loss they incur due to overrun of graduation and delayed income.
Private 4-year college student: $45,500 - $129,500
In-state public 4-year college student: $32,600 - $92,800
Out-of-state public 4-year college student: $40,900 - $116,400
HOLLY SH*T! THEY'RE HUGE!!!
I was astonished to yield these numbers. So I determined that I have to do something in this regard.
Of course, I don't underestimate or deny the advantage of changing majors. Some students find what they love to do after getting into colleges and that’s completely fine. In fact, I also love the flexibility in life planning (Indeed, I changed my career path from an employee at a large firm to become an entrepreneur which was totally unexpected!). But, the fact is that many students change their majors not because they find their interest somewhere else but because they lack sufficient preparation and research before entering colleges. This is when the things go wrong.
With that in mind, I did an internship at a public high school in Michigan for 3 months. And I found a chronicle communication problem between school counselors (especially college and career counselors) and students.
As I described above, in the first place, the counselor-to-student ratio in the US is already insane. Under this crazy situation, when students get busy to prepare for college application, they come up with a lot of questions. Interestingly, many of them come up with similar (even sometimes exactly same) questions at the same time of year because college application is a cyclical event. Counselors answer the same things over and over again whenever students come to see them.
School counselors play the crucial role in the college application and helping students achieve college readiness because they are the most knowledgeable and experienced about the whole application process. I strongly felt how good it would have been if someone had answered all the frequently asked questions so that counselors can spend their time on more critical agenda with students.
Then, as a tech enthusiast, I came up with an idea.
"Let chatbot answer these questions."
What is Chatbot?
Chatbot is an emerging education technology that helps students in achieving career readiness. This technology has especially got recognition since "Machine Learning" and “Artificial Intelligence” became a buzzword. Chatbot can understand natural languages like Siri and Alexa, and respond with relevant contents. I saw a huge opportunity to apply the technology in this context.
I quickly built a crappy prototype of a chatbot and asked students opinions at the school that I interned. Some kids liked it and started asking questions. Then I saw another problem from the experience. The chatbot was not perfect and couldn't answer if new questions came. So I transferred those questions to a counselor. She answered all the questions. But I still felt that the approach did not fundamentally reduce her efforts to answer repetitive questions from students.
Fortunately, one day, I met a serial entrepreneur who succeeded in exiting a few tech businesses. Thanks to his advice, I finally came up with another idea that rather than assigning to an individual counselor, it would be great if chatbot could transfer those new questions to a "forum" where counselors and other students in the school can interact. By doing so, all the non-personal questions would be answered and shared with other students who may have the same one.
I believe this combination is good for students in the following perspectives.
1) Since the conversation between chatbot and a student is private, the student can ask chatbot as many stupid/classic questions as possible.
2) Some students have hard times coming up with questions because they can't ask what they don't know. These students can go to the forum to learn from what other students ask.
3) After using the chatbot and the forum a lot, a student eventually brings up questions which are highly personalized and strategic, which definitely need a consultation with counselors. This is the right time that (s)he goes to see the counselor. If every student behaves like this, counselors will be able to spend a quality time with students, which is mutually beneficial for both.
My Vision is Finally a Reality
I was very excited to turn this bold idea into a reality and finally I have realized my dreams by putting up my first app on the Play Store. Now, I am looking forward to continuous support from your side and I hope you will help me make this startup a great success! On my part, I will keep updating the app to make it just more awesome every time. So if you or your friends are interested in trying this app, please do let me know. As a team, we promise to provide any support to closed beta users.