“None of us is naïve enough to hope for 10 percent of the population to open an e-mail,” says Allen Kraus, Ohio State’s point person on communications to prospective students.
So Ohio State decided to try a different approach to piercing the clutter. On Sunday night, the university e-mailed more than 100,000 high-school students with this pitch: Why not get to know “the real Ohio State” by connecting with a current student who does not work for the admissions office?
In the experiment, these would-be-Buckeyes can e-mail, instant-message, or telephone any of 68 Ohio State students who work for a start-up company called CollegeSolved. They can drill down into the company’s online network to find chat partners with common interests, like sports or environmentalism, or other shared characteristics, like students who are gay or foreign. The conversations are private. Ohio State knows only that the student demonstrated an interest (which looks good for the applicant). And the university receives anonymous data on what kinds of stuff students are asking about, such as scholarships or dorms (which could be useful for future marketing).
Ohio State employs its own university-trained student mouthpieces, but Mr. Kraus thinks CollegeSolved’s ambassadors may enjoy an extra edge of credibility. That comes at a cost: He sacrifices all control over the messages and interactions. Well, almost all. Ohio State, which contracted with CollegeSolved, did vet the company’s list of students to ensure none were “failing out or felons or anything along those lines,” Mr. Kraus says.
“This is a social media venture like any other,” he adds. “Whether prospective students interact with these students, or whether they go online and see any of 1,000 different YouTube videos that our enrolled students have put out there, or any of the blogs—one really can’t control this.”
CollegeSolved is the latest player to enter the market of middlemen that provide technology to connect colleges with prospective students—and to personalize those connections. Other companies in this world include Zinch, Cappex, and ConnectEDU. CollegeSolved, which started up in September of last year, specializes in selling access to two national online networks: one of enrolled college students and another of independent admissions counselors.
For college-admissions offices, Andrew Ullman, a former Goldman Sachs analyst who co-founded CollegeSolved, pitches his service as a way to better gauge students’ intentions at a time when they are applying to many more colleges, making it more more difficult to predict where they will enroll.
Admissions officers: Do you buy that pitch? Have you found these online middlemen useful? Which ones? And why? And how are you cutting through the clutter to reach prospective students? Share your thoughts in the comments below.