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Articles / Applying to College / Innovative College Apps

Innovative College Apps

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Jan. 12, 2016
I was doing some New Year's file cleaning on my computer and stumbled upon this article from January 2013: The 21 Winners Of The Facebook, Gates Foundation Education App Contest Are Making College Easier. The competition originated as the College Knowledge Challenge, under, in part, the heavy-hitter umbrella of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Here's how the challenge was stated:

College Summit and the King Center Charter School join the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch the College Knowledge Challenge, a $2.5 million fund to develop innovative apps on Facebook that will help students apply to, attend, and stay in college.

The College Knowledge Challenge is a competitive grant initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to award $2.5 million for Facebook applications that make the college-going process more transparent, collaborative, and easy to navigate for low-income and first generation students. By linking with Facebook, the Challenge seeks to drive creative apps that utilize the unique capabilities of and student interest in the world's largest social network.

The Challenge is open to for-profit and non-profit organizations from any field of expertise. Successful applicants will be granted $50,000 – $100,000 depending on the size and scope of their project. Once a project is admitted to the program and begins development, applicants will receive 40% of the funds; subsequent funding will be dependent upon adequate progress toward the product described in the proposal. The College Knowledge Challenge will not take equity, ownership of intellectual property rights, or require revenue share from the funded projects …

Sounds like an ambitious project. As I mentioned, the winners were announced in January 2013. Here are some highlights from that announcement:

Back in September [of 2012], The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched a contest that aimed to challenge entrepreneurs and app developers to build awesome, innovative education apps on Facebook's platform. The so-called College Knowledge Challenge kicked off with an EdTech hackathon co-hosted by the Gates Foundation and Facebook, located at the social network's headquarters in Menlo Park …

the contest called on developers of all ages to create apps that “build pathways to college, build peer groups for in-coming college students and assist with college admission and securing financial aid."

The co-hosts distributed $18K in hackathon prizes in September, with the winners of the overall challenge vying to earn one of the $100,000 grand prizes. Today, The Gates Foundation and Facebook announced the 17 startups and apps that will be taking home those grand prizes …

Some of the details about the winners' apps are interesting. Have you seen any of these in your traversal of the college realm?

Here are seven of the winning apps profiled:

Applyful — “Currently in private beta, Applyful is a collaborative college selection platform, designed for college applicants to collect and share information with one another on the road to choosing a college. As applicants use Applyful to manage research during the application process, Applyful surfaces trends and insights to encourage more informed decision-making, while developing peer groups to offer support and interaction."

College Abacus — “The Chronicle of Higher Education recently announced that College Abacus has given net price calculators “the Kayak treatment." In other words, just as Kayak created the “search one and done" experience for travel, College Abacus aims to be a free, one-stop search for comparing higher education pricing. Now available in Spanish and English, College Abacus allows college-bound students and their families to search and compare net prices — tuition and fees minus grant aid — across more than 2500 schools and counting."

College Connect [no link available] by Michigan State, University of Michigan and The Oxford Internet Institute — “This app aims to provide high school students with a compelling visualization of their Facebook network. By identifying individuals likely to be valuable resources of college-related information and scaffolding the process of information-seeking, College Connect is targeting first generation students who want to build social capital around the college-going process. The app will be developed and evaluated by Bernie Hogan (Oxford Internet Institute), Christine Greenhow (Michigan State University), and Nicole Ellison (University of Michigan)."

The FAFSA Community by NerdScholar — “The NerdScholar FAFSA Community App will create a Facebook-enabled support network of students, parents, and administrators. The resource aims to increase the FAFSA completion rate among low income and first-generation college students. By promoting a social community and the support of a peer network, NerdScholar wants to improve financial literacy and enable any student to achieve their college goals. NerdScholar is a product of NerdWallet, a startup that is empowering students to make better decisions about their higher education."

– Mission Control Center by Logrado [no link available] — “Logrado is a social-mobile guidance system that supports students in accessing, persisting in and completing college. Students use their mobile phone or Facebook account to access interactive missions that guide them through critical steps in preparing for college. Mission Control leverages Facebook to allow students to collaborate with their peers and form personal success teams comprised of family members, mentors and friends to increase encouragement, engagement and the potential for success. Logrado enables schools and college access programs to improve the quality and scale of guidance, communication and individualized support for low-income and first generation students."

Raise by Raise Labs — “Raise Labs is rethinking how college scholarships are accessed and distributed, particularly for low-income and first-generation college students. The Raise platform enables high school students to earn “micro-scholarships" towards college starting in ninth grade, based on their individual achievements and progress towards graduation. Raise helps students pursue their college ambitions with confidence and adds transparency to the scholarships process."

Zombie College by Get Schooled — “Get Schooled is a non-profit that engages and motivates students using the media, technology and popular culture integral to their lives. It has designed Zombie College, an app that aims to be “as entertaining as it is educational." The game has a low barrier to entry — no complex instructions — and is played in short bursts. The twist? The Zombie College game map is the college-going map. Students will continually play thanks to its addicting gameplay, while internalizing the key steps to go to college."


My question to you, my readers, is: Have any of you heard of or — better yet — used any of these app? (You can read the complete list of winners here.) I'm interested in getting some feedback regarding how helpful these apps are.

If you do have any experience with them, please post your comments below. It seems to me that such a large, well-funded initiative such as the College Knowledge Challenge should be making an impact, especially after several years. So, let my readers and me know. Thanks!


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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