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Member Spotlight: CollegeAppz Streamlines College Admissions Process for First-Generation Students

collegeappz-founderCollegeAppz, founded by Tina Tran Neville and Jocelyn Gamble, is an edtech company targeting first-generation, immigrant, minority and international students applying to college. The cofounders themselves are first-generation college students, so they know firsthand how difficult the college application process can be for a family with no prior practical understanding of the subject.

On the cusp of establishing a new partnership with Pearson, Tina Tran Neville caught up with 1776 about how she aims to simplify the application process.

What is CollegeAppz and what college admission issues are you trying to alleviate for students? 

CollegeAppz is a TurboTax for college admissions and financial aid. This time last year I was literally doing my taxes, but at the same time I was also running another education company, Transcend Academy.

One issue I’ve heard about the college application process is that it’s terribly complicated. It just sort of dawned on me, “Why don’t we make the process as simple as a TurboTax for college admissions?” We could help more students, and manage the process as well as help guidance counselors streamline a simplified management process. The national average is 500 to 1, students to guidance counselors, so you can imagine they are pretty overwhelmed.

Can you identify the biggest barriers in the college application process experienced by your target groups? 

The biggest frustration for families is that this process is terribly complicated and diffused. When there is too much information, that can really hamper the decision process. Secondly, if English isn’t your family’s first language, then your family as a whole doesn’t know how to access the information that suits your family’s specific needs. The language barrier makes it harder to make a family decision in terms of student loans.

What is CollegeAppz’ greatest indicator of success? 

Our greatest indicator of success is that students actually use the program and make smarter college choices. So, they are able to streamline their college choice and are able to get into them. We track that by not only student input but also on the university side, too.

Is this something you experienced firsthand? Knowing what you know now, would you change anything?

My family members were political refugee immigrants from Vietnam. English was my second language, which I learned in school. My parents speak English, but not very well—and they certainly didn’t know how to do the college admission process, because I was the first in my family to ever go to college. So a lot of it was self-taught. In retrospect I went to a great school, but maybe I could have made smarter choices on the selection or even on the financial aid side.

What specifically does CollegeAppz’ partnership with Pearson look like?

We closed the deal at the end of 2013. It is a strategic and marketing project. Pearson is the largest education company primarily organized around high-school education. CollegeAppz will add a college layer to that.

 What are CollegeAppz short- and long-term goals? 

In the short term we want to develop a great product that actually helps students make smarter college choices. In the long term, we want to determine how well we serviced those students.

How has being a 1776 member helped CollegeAppz grow as an Edtech startup? 

It’s awesome! The community is great to bounce ideas around with other entrepreneurs. Also, the contacts have been very important in how we were able to build our partnership. Third thing is that we have access to great mentors. If we have any questions and need advice, they are there to help.