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Winner Spotlight: Bringing College Admissions into the 21st Century via Texting

Dena Levitz Headshot

Dena Levitz

Challenge Cup Reporting Fellow, 1776

Applying to higher education institutions can be a drag, if you ask Kirk Daulerio and Drew Magliozzi. For students, the process is confusing, and it’s hard to know where to turn for credible help. Institutions, meanwhile, throw money at the problem but still don’t reach the high school students they want to recruit.

AdmitHub is a solution created by Daulerio and Magliozzi to answer both ends of these struggles. Their platform is a Quora-like place for students to get insights into the college admissions process. At the same time, higher-ed institutions can reach the engaged students who are users.

AdmitHub—which Daulerio pitched during the one-minute round and Magliozzi during the five-minute pitch—won the education category during the Boston Challenge Cup. After that win, the pair of cofounders debriefed some of their startup’s more unique features, like how texting is the primary communications vehicle to reach high schoolers.

The average university spends $1 million annually on student recruitment. Yet you said during your pitch that it’s not working. What’s so wrong with how college and universities are recruiting potential students?

Daulerio: Right now it’s a very inefficient use of their spending. Most colleges are using very traditional recruiting models. They send lots of staff out on the road. They meet with certain students. Some of them are a little more progressive.

Magliozzi: The primary means right now are snail mail and email, neither of which is even remotely on the radar screen of most high school kids.

Explain the term “MOOCC,” which is the crux of what your platform is and a term you introduced to the Challenge Cup audience.

Daulerio: Somebody called us that and we took it and ran with it actually. Most people are familiar with “MOOCs,” Massive Open Online Courses. We were called a “MOOCC”—Massive Open Online College Counseling.

The problem is that the average public school counselor works with almost 500 students, and they have so much on their plate that they only spend about 20 minutes a year with each kid on the college admissions process. We thought, “Let’s create a platform where everyone can collaborate to give every student a personal touch and to give them counseling that they need.”

Magliozzi: And since a lot of students have the same questions, we made it a free and open space. I might have the same questions as you. If you go to Google—you don’t even have to go to AdmitHub—and type in your question, odds are someone has already answered in our site and you’ll find us. That’s the hope.

We climbed those Google rankings slowly but surely. We’re the only ones that get experts to give the advice. There are tons of forums for college admissions. Basically students ask questions but they also answer the questions so it’s full of misinformation.

Texting is a big part of AdmitHub. It’s how you get students to fill out their profile information and how you help colleges connect with them. What made you revolve everything so much around texting?

Magliozzi: I knew that students really like to text. Startups, more than anything else, are an experiment, so we did an experiment and it was awesome. They loved it. We tried it out with 250 people and had 46 questions that we asked them via texting. Half of them answered all of the questions in the first day, which is great—except we didn’t have any more questions for them.

At the end of our experiment we asked them, “What did you think about this process?” and gave them four choices: “Did you hate it?” “Meh.” “That was pretty cool.” “That was awesome.” Half of them said, “That was awesome.” One-third said, “That was pretty cool.” And only one dude hated it—but he answered all the questions anyway, so we’re not sure what he even hated.

So you’re helping students, which is great. But explain how you make money off of that and turn it into a business model.

Magliozzi: Right now the colleges pay us. It’s free for students. And colleges pay us 1) for the privilege to answer questions on our forum. It’s a public service that they believe in and 2) get to reach students which is a great promotion for their universities.

Daulerio: We have six paying partners and several other grandfathered-in free partners. That ends July 15.

Magliozzi: A lot more are interested. They really want to reach out to these students where they are. So we provide them a direct route to these students. We haven’t yet opened that up to them but it should be soon.

In the education roundtable you said the end goal of AdmitHub is more transformative, and that it’s really about turning the admissions process on its head. What is that eventual dream?

Daulerio: You’ve got a student who is starting his or her educational career and creating a profile on AdmitHub with all of their demographic and educational data, plus their interests, activities and awards. Perhaps their transcript is a part of this profile, and this evolves over time. Colleges, graduate schools, professional schools, prep schools will be able to mine this database to effectively target recruit these students in a more efficient manner.

Right now students research colleges. They find maybe 5 to 10 that they like. They maybe submit applications to some; some they don’t know much about but they throw an app in anyway. The situation we’re thinking of flips that on its head: Colleges and graduate schools can look into this database, see a potential student who could be a match and reach out to that student and make them an offer.

In your backgrounds, Kirk, you’ve worked in admissions for a long time. And Drew, you’re a serial entrepreneur. How did those experiences lead to AdmitHub?

Daulerio: I spent almost 20 years in admissions. I started in athletics as a basketball coach that then went into college admissions. I worked for three different colleges on admissions. I also was a counselor at a high school and the last three years I was with the Common Application as their director of member relations before starting with AdmitHub.

Magliozzi: I started a tutoring company 10 years ago in Boston. We did test prep, subject tutoring and admissions consulting. I led the admissions consulting division.

Daulerio: We met when Drew’s old company was reaching out to college admissions offices to recruit consultants. At that point in my career I was working for a college in admissions and considering a change. I called Drew after receiving the email. We talked for a while. I referred several other consultants to his company.

Magliozzi: We instantly liked each other and kept in touch. Four years later I had left my tutoring company to pursue more edtech stuff. I had gone to a coding bootcamp, and I was trying to get much more technical. Kirk was planning to leave the Common Application and we decided to do something awesome.

Daulerio: Drew comes to my house. I give him homemade gravy and meatballs. I go to his house and he gives me broccoli rabe and lets me sleep on the floor—and the rest is history.

Dena Levitz Headshot

Dena Levitz

Challenge Cup Reporting Fellow, 1776

Dena Levitz is traveling to almost all of the Challenge Cup cities to cover the competition and analyze startup ecosystems around the globe. Dena joins 1776 after finishing the first…