BridgeU: review

This is the third and final post of three. You can see the first here and the second here.

BridgeU intro

BridgeU was set up with the international student in mind. Their founder noticed that there was a gap for supporting students from outside the US to apply to the US, and from the outset of working with them, it has been obvious to me that the platform has been set up with the student user experience in mind. In fact, BridgeU began selling its products directly to students before it moved on to targeting schools and this was probably due to the fact that their founder ran an educational consultancy focusing on supporting students in their university applications before founding BridgeU.

As well as supporting the application process, BridgeU’s philosophical approach has been to try to help match students to potential universities by using an algorithm that takes data that the student inputs and producing matched results based on that student entered data. This is the defining part of BridgeU. Note this is more than just a database, BridgeU’s algorithm will make recommendations to a user about the fit of a university for that user. With the international student in mind, BridgeU currently matches applications to US, Canada, UK, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and we are promised that matching will be available to Australia soon. Recently BridgeU announced global shortlisting and users can now add any university from any country in the world, although they can’t match to all these universities. This free-form shortlisting is a new feature and adds a huge amount of flexibility to the platform.

The student side

Once set up and logged in, students input data into the profile builder; this ranges from personal preferences to the countries and locations that they want to study in, as well as the type of university experience that they would like to have and the courses that they wish to study.

When this is completed they can view university matches on the appropriate tab. These matches are presented nine at a time grouped into three categories, reach, match and safety. Each choice is presented as a card on which students can click to gain more information about the university as well as the matching scores.

In each category, to be able to see more choices, students have to either “shortlist” or “discard” each choice before more are shown. This feature has caused some issues with student users I have worked with, either thinking these nine options are all they have or not liking the feeling of commitment in “discarding” or “shortlisting”. To get around these issues, each of the categories now states how many options there are underneath the category label and students are able to find any courses that have been discarded again via a link on the top right of this page.

Once students have completed the matching they can view all of the options they have shortlisted under the shortlist tab. On the shortlist tab students can also directly add in any courses that they know about that they are considering, bypassing the matching tab. It is this feature that allows students to add any university on the planet – quite a powerful feature. After populating the shortlist tab, students then decide where they will apply by clicking on the “apply here” feature next to each shortlist.

When a student selects a university to apply to BridgeU will give them information about deadlines as well as the documentation that they need to submit as part of their application. The system will also alert the advisor to any required documentation that the school will need to submit. Another really nice feature, just released but still needing some development is application tracking. If you have used UCAS adviser track then you will get a sense of why this is such a good feature for a counsellor. Essentially this simple feature provides a space for students to mark when they have finished preparing and sending their application, as well as mark when they have received an offer and any decisions that they make. This means that the advisor is easily able to keep track of all the application statuses of all their students.

In addition to these research, matching and application tools, BridgeU also offers a “writing builder” to support students in writing a personal statement, or college essays for the US. These tools are still a little basic and I am not convinced that the functionality is any better than google docs, in fact, google docs may be a better place to write if students want to receive comments and input from teachers – I will be testing this out more in a couple of months. To support students in this process there are also annotated exemplars available for the students to view but these don’t provide the level of scaffolding that as a teacher I would like to see and the annotations are a little weak.

Finally, BridgeU has recently developed a careers tool that students can view but unfortunately, teachers can’t at present. The careers tool is ambitious and adopts BridgeU’s global approach by aggregating data on careers from many different countries. The data is supplied by burning glass. The careers tool works a little like the matching program and allows students to view data from job groups and select jobs they are interested in, before viewing a career report that gives some data about earning power, monthly demands for the job and its sector.

The teacher side

BridgeU’s teacher side is still under development, it is obvious that the platform was originally designed with the student user in mind, and BridgeU has had to work hard to make the platform fit into the school ecosystem. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all, we are all here to support the student applicant. I just believe that one of the best ways to do that is to support the work of teachers and schools.

BridgeU is aware of the issues from the teacher side and is working to address them. They have recently partnered with iSAMs and ManageBac which, to my mind at least, gives them the potential to hugely improve some of the issues that they have. Because of this integration, it is now very easy to add students and advisors to the platform if you use either of these systems. If you don’t, adding advisors and students is a little bit cumbersome, but no more or less than any of their competitors.

The reference writing tool is currently undergoing user testing in BridgeU’s beacon schools and allows advisors to easily assign report writers to an individual student. A little like the students writing builder; there are no exemplars of completed comments or references for teachers to view and the writing functionality itself is minimal in its current state.

BridgeU has worked hard recently to allow document sending as a function, giving schools the ability to send transcripts and other documents directly to US and Canadian universities. The document sending function is powered by Parchment and is built directly into the system. This is a much-needed function for many schools, particularly those with many applicants to North America. When a student selects to apply to the relevant country, the documents that need to be sent are added to the advisor’s task list. From here the advisor can upload the necessary documents and send with just a few clicks.

Finally, BridgeU has recently provided a reporting function for advisors under the analytics tab. From here advisors can easily see which universities are shortlisted and applied to most frequently by their student body. The analytics function will also provide reporting on student offers, rejections, predicted scores, final scores, document sending and an analysis of historical data.

Conclusion

The platform has come some way since I last wrote about them but not as far as I would have imagined in that time, indeed some of the functionality that they were keen to point out they were working on in their response to that article, is still not visible within the system. Added to that they have developed a slight reputation for aggressive marketing, particularly amongst the schools that I communicate with, which is a shame because they are a lovely team (I know, I’ve met them).

That said they have a powerful product that will be ideal for schools that manage a very diverse student body, whose students apply to many different HE systems each year. It’s matching algorithm, global or free-form shortlisting, document sending and its application tracking and reporting are it’s greatest assets currently, and ones that set it apart from competitors.

Areas for development on the platform include the careers tool which is still in their infancy. It is promising that this is being developed but I would like to see more from this section, perhaps even a CV builder or some form of personality assessment.

Personally, I still have some reservations about the platform, as I do about all platforms of its ilk. When working with a product that is being developed, you have to be prepared to work with it and understand that certain aspects may not be delivered in the timescales that are promised all the time. Having said this, this platform does the heavy lifting when it comes to helping students make sense of all university the data that is out there.

Global university admission guidance: review of #edtech platforms

Update (17th July 2018): You can see all my reviews linked below including the one published today of Cialfo:

Update (28th June 2018): You can see my review of MaiaLearning here. I will be chatting with Cialfo next week and hope to have a review coming out sometime towards the end of July.

Update (21st June 2018): Since publishing the reviews of BridgeU and Unifrog I have also had the chance to get acquainted with MaiaLearning and will be publishing my review next week.

Background

In recent months a hole has opened up in the marketplace for global university admissions platforms due to the announcement that the biggest kid on the block, Naviance, was retiring from supporting the work of global university admission guidance counsellors.

I don’t know about my colleagues, but personally, these platforms provide an invaluable resource for my work. If you were to focus purely on the intricacies and nuances of applying to a variety of different university systems and the requirements of those systems alone, you may begin to appreciate the task of trying to help families and students make sense of all the options. When you add in the sheer number of universities on the planet and the impossible task of knowing all of them, let alone knowing about them, then you begin to see the value that an online database and guidance tool brings to the work, if only to limit counselor bias, particularly the anchoring and halo effects.

In this first of three posts, I want to introduce the next two posts examining alternatives to Naviance: UniFrog & BridgeU. Both platforms are same-same but different, approaching guidance with different philosophies and outlooks.

I am not aiming to compare these platforms (except on two points – see below) but will instead aim to describe their functions openly and honestly, before outlining my opinion of what works and doesn’t on these platforms.

Reader beware that this is coloured by own use of the systems in my own context: a small, but very diverse international student body, delivering the three IB programmes from primary to the diploma. This was also my first guidance post and one where I set up the program. I am fully aware that my experience of this work will not be the same as other colleagues.

Any counsellors considering two these platforms should certainly have a go at trialling them both themselves. I have worked with BridgeU since 2016 and have blogged about my experience here and here. I have since worked with UniFrog since 2017.

There are only two comparison points that I will make: Firstly, the platforms are both great! They both solve the counsellor’s dilemma: how do I get more knowledge of the options available to best serve my students. They both democratise that knowledge and enable students to be much larger change agents for their future-selves.

The second comparison is about outlook: BridgeU attempt ultimately to use an algorithm to match student and institution. Thus be aware that there is a layer of filtering that goes on within the system, I make no comment about the pros and cons of this.

UniFrog does not believe in filtering the data for the student. Instead, they aim to provide all the information at once and present a range of filters for the student to play with. Again I make no comment about the pros and cons of this approach.

The different philosophies of each company in the management of the data they present lead to differences in their style of working.

Finally, I am learning that blog posts are best kept short and sweet and so each post will be limited to around 500 words. Each post will appear over the next two Thursdays. With the UniFrog 500 word review next Thursday and the BridgeU 500 word review the week after.

Keep a lookout for them!

 

Listening List

This is a list of Podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis. You can add to this list yourself and/or download a copy here.

Creating a University & Careers Guidance Programme (Part 1)

I was originally planning to write up my experiences in a single blog post but it got too long and so I have broken it up into four separate posts: this one which will focus on my efforts to organise the counseling space and resources. The second two posts focuses on a) building relationships with other institutions and b) the agencies you need to be registered with, while the final post deals with the internal dynamics of advising students and communicating with parents.

This last year has been incredible in so many ways but also very, very hard. This post is partly a record and reflection of my experiences but I also write with a few other counselors in mind whom I met this year who were in a similar position to me: working in small or new schools and carrying the responsibility of setting up the university and careers provision.

In August 2014 I moved schools. The aim of my new job was to begin developing a boarding program for my new school. Unfortunately for me, in early September of that year the company that owned the school took the decision to place the boarding program on permanent hold.

The resulting two years have been a period in which I have learned an awful lot, met and worked with some truly inspiring colleagues, and had the opportunity to really reflect on and experiment in my teaching practice.

Losing the boarding project opened the door to another really exciting opportunity: the chance to found, set up and run my own College Counseling Department or Higher Education and Careers Department or University and Careers Counseling Department (Yep those are the three titles we have run through this year and we are sticking with the last one!).

To say that this last academic year has been challenging and stressful would be an understatement but it has also been a real honour to build something from the ground up, make decisions and have the opportunity to advocate on behalf of an interesting mixed cohort of kids, from a variety of very diverse backgrounds. I have learned a lot about myself, my own perceptions, my own prejudice, my limitations and my strengths. I want to use this post to reflect on my experience in the first year of setting up a careers and university advisory service in a school.

I officially started the role in August 2015 but I began preparations for it back in April of the same year. This was a start up school environment that at the time had just, in March of that year, received authorisation to begin teaching the DP and were also prepping for our MYP authorization visit that would come in October of that year. Thus everyone was busy, not just with the normal rounds of lesson planning, delivery and reflection; not just on the unit planning, horizontal and vertical articulation that comes with the MYP but also with the additional paperwork that comes with trying to get a school authorized to deliver a curriculum.

So I was effectively on my own. Where would you start to plan a university guidance (at the time I thought it was just university guidance) program? You have an office space and thats it. You have no real background in the area save working in secondary teaching for six years, some of which you have been a sixth form tutor in the UK and a Boarding House parent for 16-18 year olds.

Organising the Counseling Space & Resources

I started by buying maps. Maps of the continental US, UK, and the World. Large ones around 1.2m x 1.0m to put on the walls. While waiting for these to go through our schools insanely long procurement process, I then downloaded the UK University League tables and registered online with every university as a students and ordered a copy of their prospectus. Those that wouldn’t post a copy to Europe, I downloaded a digital copy and saved. Later these were uploaded to the University Guidance Group that I created on ManageBac as a place to share resources with our G9-G12 students. Along the same vein, I wanted to make sure that our space set aside for guidance counseling was warm and welcoming, a place where parents and students felt that they could just drop into. Always at the fore-front of my mind was that we were a very new school, in a very competitive area (26 or thereabouts international schools in the area) and I believe that the university and careers provision that any secondary school offers has to aim to build confidence amongst the community of student, parents and teachers that it is competent. Parents will seek out the “best” schools for the their children and while you there are thousands of different views of what may make a school best, I feel that after a solid academics program (parents want to know there children are learning), a guidance program that helps students identify their strengths and interests and guides them to the next natural step after secondary school successfully is a major want for secondary parents. A school that doesn’t offer that, especially one that you are paying for, will surely send red flags. Hence, ordering maps and materials for the guidance office, to help build the environment for students and parents seemed like a natural place to start. At this time I also ordered books and guides and I continued to do this over the course of the next year. The books I now have in the office aside from the prospectuses are:

An additional resources that I came across last year that I make parents of students aware of is the gettingin podcast by panoply.

One of the essential tasks that went on alongside relationship building (see below) throughout the year was the creation of a variety of different resources to use both externally and internally of our school community. Early in the year I created the G11 counseling timeline and drafted the G12 counseling timeline which I will be finishing this summer. I scaffolded this process for myself by comparing the timelines produced by a variety of other schools that I had contact or a connection with.

At the same time I began to synthesise and summarise the key steps and information that lay at the heart of applications to the countries that my job description asked me to be responsible for – UK, US, Canada and Switzerland. For each of these countries I produced and essential information document, only two sides in total for each one that gave an overview for parents and students of the application process for each country.

Once all of these documents were created I decided to group them together into the first iteration of the University Guidance handbook, the development of which has carried on throughout the year as I have written new documents which have also been added to the handbook. I am hoping to be able to complete version 4 of the handbook over this summer break.

Early on in the year, and with input from a variety of the my colleagues, in  preparation for the CIS forum I created a school profile document. This document summarised our school, giving key information to admissions representatives. It was so liked by our marketing department that they subsequently hijacked it for use with prospective parents!

Throughout the year I also created a variety of forms to help with managing my meetings with students. These included permissions for students to miss class to attend university presentations, or open days, interview forms, teacher recommendation request forms and a university research form to help students build their shortlist of universities. I am not sure how useful some of these will be now that I am using BridgeU which provides a natural scaffold for structuring the timings of meetings with students which I will develop further for next year.

Towards the end of the year I worked with the DP and MYP coordinators to begin drafting policies for use in our community. These were the language course selection and university guidance policy, the predicted grades, teacher comments and recommendations policy as well as the attending university open days and guidance office events policy.

Finally in terms of resources, I was successful in April of this year in convincing the management at school that our community would benefit from the use of a guidance platform to primarily help students in their course and university research. I have blogged about the rollout of BridgeU here and here, so I won’t write too much here. In the final section of this blog on guiding students I will expand a little more as to why this was really important for me and my students.

Bio Reading List

August 2016

Reading, Reading, Reading! Reading for research and Reading to support a deeper understanding of the subject. It can be a tricky one with some DP students. For one they already have six subjects plus TOK, Extended Essay and CAS and so encouragement to take up some “outside” reading of their subjects can appear to some of them as overkill and an extra burden. Secondly in the internet age I notice that more students will readily turn to google and a variety of dubious websites to try to quickly find information in the name of “research” for assignments, instead of relying on their course textbook as the first recourse for research.

How to get students using the materials like reference textbooks more readily as well as encouraging a deeper interest in the subject is a perennial question for me.

Below is a list of books that I give to DP biology students which I started compiling in 2014. Some of these I award as internal prizes for a variety of competitions and some I try to build into my course.

You can now add to this list and download your own copy by clicking here.

If you do download please do add to the list.