December 7, 2012

Innovative website helps students find right college

The Freeport company's clients are high schools, which input students' grades and test scores and helps find matches based on personalized needs.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FREEPORT — Morse High School senior Katlyn Gonzalez got the good news about a week ago: She's going to University of Vermont next year.

click image to enlarge

Betsy Peters, CEO, operates Possibility U out of her home office. The 2-year-old company, which got started on angel investor funding and several seed grants, was featured earlier this year at a White House conference encouraging entrepreneurs to use federal data to develop technology.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

She said Possibility U, a new website developed by a former Freeport school board member, helped her find the right college.

On the site, a student enters a few schools of interest, then the website scours college databases using the student's academic information. Possibility U then provides a map showing the student's chances of getting accepted and getting financial aid at a particular college.

It also recommends other colleges that might be a good fit for the student.

"It really helped me, it really gave me confidence," said Gonzalez, 17, who plans eventually to go to medical school and become a radiologist. "I used the College Board website first, and I got a lot of information, but it didn't personalize it. I needed something to really personalize it to me."

Betsy Peters, who created the site, said that's what makes Possibility U different from other online college navigation or filtering tools.

The clients of Possibility U are high schools, which put their students' grades and test scores into the system. So when a student signs in, the program already knows his or her SAT scores and grade point average, and whether he or she has taken Advanced Placement courses.

"We leverage the data that's already available at the school and we can say, 'You're on track,' or 'You're competitive,'" Peters said. "These are things that have been framed generically before."

Gonzalez said she went into the college admissions process thinking the University of Vermont would be a reach for her. But Possibility U showed that she was more competitive than she thought, and that financial aid looked promising.

Peters said that isn't uncommon for high school students in the college admissions process. Many go by recommendations from teachers, counselors, friends and family members, or wade through websites to pick out a handful of colleges.

On average, Peters said, students spend only 38 minutes researching their college choices.

"I saw there was a whole nest of problems ... we're looking to solve that," said Peters, who runs Possibility U from her home office in Freeport. "What if the right school for you isn't even on your radar?"

The two-year-old company got started with an undisclosed arrangement with an angel investor -- usually someone who gives money in exchange for a stake in the company or other return on investment -- and several seed grants.

It was featured earlier this year at a White House conference encouraging entrepreneurs to use federal data to develop technology.

Possibility U uses students' data from its client schools to search open-source federal education data, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, and College Board data.

It recently received "innovator" status from Pearson, the world's biggest education services company, which also partnered with Possibility U.

As part of the partnership, Possibility U is included as a tool in Pearson's Power School suite of products, used by schools and organizations supporting 10 million students in all 50 states and over 65 countries.

"That has opened a ton of doors," Peters said.

In April, the Software & Information Industry Association named Possibility U a finalist for its Innovation Incubator Program, which raised its profile for people tracking the education-software sector, and gave Peters an opportunity to pitch the site at an education technology summit.

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