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College Applicants Look For Help Online and From Other Students

The college search has moved beyond thick guide books. Today's plugged-in high school students want interactive, searchable information about campus life. They don't want generic write-ups that make every college sound ideal.

That concept led Jordan Goldman to start Unigo.com in 2008. The college-information website features student reviews, photos, and videos of campuses across the country. It allows users to find content that's most relevant to them.

For instance, you can sort to find reviews based on your gender, political views, and major. It's the kind of individualized information that today's high school students crave.

The concept goes back to Goldman's own experience as a high school student in Staten Island, N.Y. He couldn't afford to visit many campuses so he sent emails to college students asking them about their schools. Those detailed responses (30,000 in total) became material for a series of student guide books that Goldman published with Penguin Books.

But Goldman realized the potential of putting the reviews online and launched Unigo, which now has 12 employees and gets a million hits a month. While much of the content is free, the site does offer custom programs and one-on-one counseling help for a fee.

The site fills a niche for students who can't afford expensive private consultants and may only get 15 minutes of college help with high school counselors because they are spread so thin, said Goldman at a forum this week at the New America Foundation in Washington.

The New York-based Unigo has built a network of about 1,500 counselors that do live video-chat college counseling through the website (for $50 to $100/hour. The site also offers information on essays, interviews, paying for college and other topics.

"We thought, if it's hard to get more college counseling into schools, but there are 97,000 college counselors in America collectively, can we get more counseling out of those counselors and redistribute that in a cost-effective way to the masses?" said Goldman, 29.

Too often, high schools aren't providing enough guidance to help with the college application process and students don't know where to turn for help, maintained Goldman.

"That leads to kids going to the wrong school, them getting discouraged and dropping out, they don't get the most financial aid, they don't know how to translate the financial aid they are getting, they don't know how to properly compare the two," said Goldman. "There are big systemic problems. The piece we focus on is to help kids make the decision up front, and help them understand their options."

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