I have only been a “guidance counselor” for eight months now am learning a lot about this side of the education industry/vocation/profession. One of the things that seems to be the perception of guidance counselors outside of schools is that they are the gatekeeper to the organisation that they work with. Recently, every week brings an overwhelming, inundation of emails from companies toting the latest innovation that they inevitably believe is the greatest opportunity that my students shouldn’t miss out on. Everything from summer camps and tutoring companies and new #edtech online platforms keep regular contact with me, pulling at my paranoia that I must pass their information on, otherwise my students will suffer.
For one, working in start up school I am just to busy to prioritise these emails, dealing with companies outside the school is the last thing that needs to happen when you are trying to teach, plan, assess, write the curriculum, take a school through authorization and accreditation. Add to that you are having to learn the ropes of a new job (university guidance) to present parents and students with their possible future options, with little to no real experience in “counseling” and from starting with nothing in place; no program, no relationships with universities or other schools, little internal support (everyone else is far too busy setting up their programs to help), all the while trying to convince your colleagues that the role is vital to the success of school when they query why you aren’t teaching as many periods as them. You can see why I don’t have too much time to spend on junk mail: pas de publicité, merci.
While my school is very small with a cohort of only 13 in grade 11 and no grade 12 until this September, the students are diverse. Not a single one of them is the same in terms of their background, passports held, and aspirations. While the majority of students want to apply to the UK some are considering Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands, Australia and the US. I even have one student trying his luck with the NCAA for a basketball scholarship. While my experienced colleagues in schools with larger cohorts will say “so? our student apply to those places too”. While this is true and you will certainly have more applications to process next year; just walk in my shoes for a while. Imagine that you didn’t know anything about counseling students, about helping them identify choices, imagine that the terms NCAA, CEEB code, personal statement, common app, were all new to you. You were a Biology teacher, who suddenly had to learn all about the different systems for applying to universities in different countries, about applying for visas, about funding, about the NCAA, forge relationships with universities across the world and suck in as much information as you could about where to apply and best-fit as you could all the while trying to engage and guide young people. Do all this and teach a subject you know very well but learn a new curriculum and start teaching a new subject, assist with CIS accreditation..the list goes on. Oh and did I mention that I have a child under one. You see my predicament.
During all of this, two of these emails that passed my inbox in the last six months did catch my eye for long enough for me to dig a little deeper and pursue them and I am so glad that I did! In this post I will briefly outline who these operations are.
For a while I have been trying to build a case to convince my senior management that having a platform to help students identify matching universities globally, to help them develop what is known as a “list” based on their criteria. This platform should also make it easier for me to manage their applications, to track where they have got to so that I can assist them better. I am a firm believer that often what is in the best interest of the student is to have a teacher/counselor whose bests interests in doing their job are met.
Initally Naviance was the obvious choice. This is the system I first heard about and everyone I met seemed to know, use and love, which is unusual for a piece a software. Normally there are a handful of people that don’t like it, or at least find it cluncky. This seemed to be really positive thing – I wanted it. At least until I learned a little bit about BridgeU.
Naviance uses lists and drop down menus to filter data in a database to help students identify potential matching universities. It is also heavily US focussed. While it does have information about UK and other universities it appeared to me to be certainly focussed on the US market. Students can also apply through the common app through Naviance and so it offers definite advantages to managing student applications. It also had a huge price tag which just wasn’t economical with such a small number of students.
I will start working with BridgeU this month but what I know about them already has obviously sold me and I am excited to work with them. They seem to approach the problem of university choice a little more intelligently by matching students with universities based on an algorithm that maps their interests, skills etc. Now I anticipate that this won’t be perfect initially – they are a small and new company and I am sure that there will be bumps in the road on this front but the vision is there; the vision to do things more intelligently and more student-centered.
BridgeU’s outlook is truely global with a focus currently on US, UK and Canada they will also be adding soon, universities in Netherlands, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore which for me means that they will be able to help me advise a very diverse (although tiny) student body, and hopefully I will learn more along the steps of the process.
So far the service appears to have the personal touch, BridgeU is also a small start-up and they have promised flexible and responsive support as they cater to a small number of schools. This remains to be seen and I wonder how they will keep that promise if the platform grows.
Finally, aside from being an offering that is able assist my students select opportunities across the globe the platform also promises to be able help me support them through collating the schools’ grades and references by bringing my colleagues comments etc into one place where I can access them.
These are the things that have sold the platform to me – oh and the price which was competitive to say the least when compared with a giant like Naviance.
Yesterday, on a bustling busy street I made my way into the Starbucks of Plainpalais in Geneva, where I had the pleasure of meeting with Unibudy another company that had even persuaded me to take time out of my Easter holiday to meet them. I was a little skeptical initially over their intentions and the product they were offering but it really did not take me long to see just how exciting their product could be for some of the young people I work with.
Unibudy are essentially building a platform that will allow young people between the ages of 16-19, or in final stage of pre university education to find a mentor at a university that they like and ask that person questions. The mentor would be a current undergraduate at the university of choice and questions could be about anything, but would ideally focus on the structure of the course and the real time experience that the mentor is having. It struck me as a simple way to help to make what could be quite a daunting (and exciting!) prospect for a school student, leaving home, leaving school, going to a new country and a new learning environment a little easier to manage. I can’t think why students would not want this. The only issue is that they would have to pay for their talk time. Although the prices seem to be quite reasonable. Mentors are rated a bit like rooms on airbnb and students have the ability to filter mentors based on university and degree course. Currently it is only being developed for UK universities.
The platform is still in its infancy, or yet to be released but Unibudy also have other plans for content that would be free. This would include webinars about courses and universities from academics at those universities where students could sign up to ask questions. They also have plans for forums where students could ask general questions and dicuss their answers for free.
For students coming from a small school like mine who may not have that much to offer in terms of an alumni network this is almost like an alumni network in a can. For a little bit of cash you can get access to students studying the course that you want to apply for at the university you want to apply to. You can get the inside track and perhaps begin to break down what can seem to be a paralysingly huge change in your life into something that is a bit more manageable.
Both Unibudy and BridgeU are new, fresh and offering something that is a little bit different. Certainly as a counselor who is new to the game, they offer solutions that are complimentary that I can see would certainly benefit the students I work with. I am looking forward to working with both and I shall keep blogging about my experience with them over the next 12 months.
PosScript: I did want to ask Unibudy why they weren’t spelt unibuddy, why drop a d but I didn’t dare.