Guidance counselor Brianna Palmer wants all her students to go to college. And once they’re there, she wants them to graduate.
“Getting students to college is half the battle,” said Palmer, who works at San Francisco’s Thurgood Marshall High School. “It’s also getting students through college.”
She would like to match each student with the perfect college — and make sure they have a plan to pay for it — but Palmer has some 200 seniors on her docket. It’s impossible for her to hold every hand through the arcane process of applying for financial aid.
“We have a lot of students who are the first people in their families to go to college,” Palmer said. “Their parents don’t know what’s required, might not even know what a transcript is. The reality is that the college application system is so complicated.”
But beginning this year, an online program called ConnectEDU could help San Francisco students navigate that system. Like an online dating service, the program matches students with colleges where they’re most likely to succeed.
“That’s certainly an important part of it — building relationships,” said Craig Powell, founder of the Boston-based company that built the system, which is now in use at 2,500 schools across the country. “We get past the test scores and give the colleges a more holistic view of the student.”
In San Francisco, students will begin using ConnectEDU in ninth grade. They will use it to learn about colleges and careers that fit their interests, and over the next three years it will help them decide which high school courses they need to qualify for their target college. In 12th grade, students will use the program to assemble college applications.
Meanwhile, college admissions officers will use the program to find students that would do well at their institutions.
“It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack for these colleges,” said Powell, explaining that many universities want to assemble a diverse freshman class and are looking for very specific types of students.
Students might wind up being successful at schools they’ve never heard of, Palmer said.
“A lot of these kids don’t realize, you could go to school in North Dakota and the school could be the perfect fit,” she said. “And they could give you a lot of money because you fit a niche they’re seeking to fill.”