Founders’ Keepers: How AdmitHub began building chatbots for colleges

kirk and drew

June 22, 2016

Welcome to the first edition of “Founders’ Keepers,” our monthly blog chronicling the ins and outs of our fair startup,  AdmitHub. Since this is our first post, I thought it would be interesting to give a brief history of how we got to where we are today. About two years ago, Drew and I started talking about how we could use technology to democratize the college admissions process.

AdmitHub co-founders Kirk Daulerio and Andrew Magliozzi with Oli stuffed animals

AdmitHub co-founders Kirk Daulerio and Andrew Magliozzi, armed with the stuffed animal version of Oli

More than 3 million students apply to college in the U.S. each year. Thousands more intend to pursue postsecondary education but fail to navigate the application process. Even among those who do, many falter in transitioning successfully to college. Current staffing in high schools suggests that we can’t look to school counselors as a sole solution to this challenge. The national student to counselor ratio is almost 500/1. This makes it nearly impossible for each and every student to receive personalized guidance. If you come from a low-income community, you are at even more of a disadvantage in finding the appropriate support. In fact, you’re likely to not even know the right questions to ask to get you started on your college process.

In considering these challenges, we saw an opportunity to use technology — specifically artificial intelligence and text-messaging — as the best way to provide individualized guidance to everyone, and to reach those students who need the most assistance.

A virtual star is born

So we developed Oli™, the first virtual college admissions coach. Oli is an intelligent chatbot that engages students over text message, sending key reminders and answering questions about the college admissions process. For universities, AdmitHub helps them to meaningfully engage students at scale, provides actionable insight to identify students who are at risk of falling off track, and offers personalized interventions to encourage success.

If you haven’t heard of chatbots yet, you will soon enough. Facebook, Google, even Bill Gates are heralding the coming of conversational chatbots as the next great revolution in the way people interact with technology. You’ve heard of Siri, but did you know that Siri’s little sister Viv is in the works? How about Google’s “Assistant?” And check out what happened when a professor built a chatbot to be his teaching assistant.

After building Oli, we started talking to universities about developing custom chatbots specifically for their institutions. We thought, what if it could automatically answer any question about the university, but also gather crucial information, help prospective students apply, keep current students on track while on campus, even prompt them to give back once they graduate? If you’re interested in visualizing what it would look like for your school, you should request a demonstration.

Colleges “Pounce” on chatbot technology

Thus, “Pounce” was built for Georgia State University as the very first university chatbot in the United States. GSU’s friendly panther-bot is currently having thousands of personalized conversations with students, helping them do everything from submitting their intent to enroll form to guiding them through the FAFSA process to letting them know that while they may have fish in their dorm rooms, their dogs must stay at home.

Pounce will be in good company very soon, as we’re currently working on developing chatbots for multiple new partner colleges to launch in the fall. Stay tuned by signing up for our newsletter.

News and Notes

A few other notable events have taken place in the past 18 months that are worth mentioning.

  • In April 2015, we were selected as one of 12 out of more than 6,000 applicants to the prestigious Techstars startup accelerator in Boston. Here’s our presentation at Demo Day.
  • In September 2015, we were invited to present at the Goucher College Higher Ed for All Conference, which brought together educational leaders to discuss the challenges and potential solutions to access to higher education.

Building on this success, we are currently working with a wide range of university partners, including large public institutions such as Georgia State, and small liberal arts colleges like Allegheny.

Almost two years into this venture, we’re beyond excited to see our technology doing what it was meant to do; that is, helping young people through a major life transition, and easing their “agita” along the way (it’s Italian, look it up).

Until next time,

Kirk & Drew

Co-Founders, AdmitHub

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