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
Staff Writer

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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

Today, Possibility U has nine paying customers, including Freeport and Morse high schools in Maine.

Peters wouldn't disclose financial data about Possibility U or reveal the source or amount of investor funding, but said she needs to sign up about 100 high schools to break even. The company now has four full-time employees.

At Freeport High, guidance counselor Alexis Rog said the site is a great supplement to the one-on-one counseling that most students need to navigate the college admissions process.

"It's a fabulous tool for students who are really interested in learning independently about the nuts and bolts of the college application process," said Rog, one of three counselors at Freeport High.

The school has a senior class of 130 students; about 66 percent go to four-year colleges and 17 percent go to two-year colleges.

Rog, who has been a guidance counselor for eight years, said one of the biggest challenges is keeping students on a timeline and meeting deadlines.

Possibility U helps with that, partly because a student can access it at any hour.

How does it work?

A school buys a software license, and all of its student data is incorporated into the program. School officials decide how many students to include. Most schools use it for juniors and seniors only, although one college-oriented private school in Massachusetts uses it for ninth- through 12th-graders.

Schools pay about $10 per student.

Once a student logs on, the program starts by asking for a few colleges he or she is interested in attending.

It then uses 78 characteristics to compare, analyze and rank two- and four-year colleges in the United States. It then creates a heat map, plotting schools according to the student's chance of being accepted and likelihood of getting financial aid.

Users can manipulate the results, sorting or organizing by major, level of academic rigor and unique characteristics of the student body.

In addition to ranking colleges, the site offers coaching videos on how to apply to college, essay and interview tips, and text or email reminders about upcoming deadlines.

Parents and guidance counselors can track the way a student is using the website.

Parents even can sign up to get their own reminders that notify them if their child is falling behind in the process.

"It eliminates the nag factor," Peters said. Even more important, it puts students in control of the process.

"It's their first big decision," she said. "This way, it's a supported decision, but it's their decision."

Peters said Possibility U differs from other online college filtering tools by providing a tailored response to each student because it has his or her academic records.

Peters said she's focused on signing up more schools and expanding the site's reach. For example, she hopes to expand the site to include trade and technical schools.

Gonzalez's guidance counselor at Morse High in Bath said the online tools speak to today's tech-savvy students.

"There are lots of good books, but what I like is that it takes all of that and puts it into a medium they're already plugged into," said Leslie Trundy.

Trundy said the school has used grant money to pay for Possibility U so far, but after using it for two years she thinks it would be worth "prioritizing" it as a regular school cost.

Morse High has 140 seniors and 150 juniors, so the site would cost the school about $3,000 each year.

About 50 percent of its graduates go on to four-year colleges and another 20 percent go to two-year colleges.

"I've been really pleased with it," Trundy said of Possibility U. "I want all the kids using it."

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

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