Market for Applicants AppSuccess targets low-income students who qualify to attend a four-year college. The students we target are on track to become high school graduates who, without our intervention, either would not apply to college at all or would apply to less selective colleges in which they would not be able to maximize their potential.
The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that 2.9 million students graduated from public high schools in the 2008-09 school year, and 1.2 million of those students did not enroll in a four-year college upon graduation, even though many were college qualified. A Congressional Advisory Panel estimated that 440,000 of those students are college qualified students from low- income backgrounds. (Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, 2002). In a recent survey of college-qualified non-college-goers, only 15% had even applied to college (Hahn and Price, 2008). This means that of the 440,000 low-income college-qualified high school grads who do not go to college every year, 374,000 never apply to college.
AppSuccess will reach our target population by focusing on Title I schools, where most of the 440,000 low-income college-qualified non-college-goers go to school. Rather than trying to reach 440,000 individual students spread throughout the country, which would be costly and inefficient, we will instead target the nearly 4,600 high schools that receive Title I funds for educating high proportions of low-income students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010).
Market for Mentors
Approximately 3.3 million college students volunteer each year, and the median college student volunteers for more than 50 hours per year. Nearly 32% of students who volunteer work either directly with an organization in education or in youth services, and over 50% of all college volunteers have tutored or mentored youth through some type of organization (Corporation for National and Community Service, 2006).
Logistics, including transportation, is ranked as one of the highest barriers that is keeping college students from volunteering. AppSuccess takes something that college students have already shown interest in—volunteering with children—and lets them do it from the comfort of their own home.
The proportion of high school graduates who subsequently enroll in college has risen from 61.5% in 1995 to 70.1% in 2009, and the rate at which that figure grows is increasing quickly (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Additionally, the college admissions process has grown more competitive, prompting an increase in the demand for college counseling services across all student demographics. There are two professions that assist students with their college applications: guidance counselors and college advisers.
Guidance counselors work in high schools, and on average spend just 28% of their time on college advising (National Association for College Admission Counseling). In most cases, they cannot meet the growing demand of students who need access to information and mentorship: although the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 100 students to 1 guidance counselor, the guidance counselor to student ratio can be as high as 740 students per counselor in low-income schools (McDonough) Number of Students per Guidance Counselors
College Advisors There are over 20,000 college advisors and admission professionals nationwide. Most of these individuals run small, local operations, though some national companies like Kaplan have recently started offering college counseling services for fees. The rapid growth of the private college advising industry is due in large part to the industry’s low barriers to entry and a rapidly increasing demand from students (and their parents) seeking to gain an edge in the college admissions process. Within the industry, there is a great deal of diversification in services (standardized test prep, essay writing, etc.) and costs, with fees reaching as high as $40,000. The trend of increasing demand for independent college advising will likely continue into the future, as the primary drivers of demand—a growing population of college-aspiring high school graduates and a dearth of overworked in-school college counselors—will remain relevant and pervasive. Importantly, profit incentives steer competitors toward higher-income students, leaving fewer firms to address the needs of low-income students, who are already in greater need of these services. This creates the perfect niche in which AppSuccess can thrive by providing students at Title I schools across the nation with quality college advising at no charge. The future of the industry will also be affected by a new focus on college admissions for all students on the part of the current presidential administration. At the start of his term, President Obama established a goal that by 2020 the U.S. would lead the world in the proportion of its population made up of college graduates. In support of this goal, the bipartisan Pathways to College Act was proposed, which aims to improve the college-going rates of low-income students. Should this Act become a law, the federal government will disburse funds to organizations that provide information for all students and their families on the college application process, paying for colleges, and preparing for college.
Existing competition falls into three categories: For-profit application coaches (e.g., Ivy Coach, My College Vision, IvyWise, College Bound Mentor). These organizations, while high-quality and highly recognized, offer services primarily for middle- and high-income families. In fact, some top college admissions coaches are known to charge upwards of $40,000 for their services.
Online application information sites (e.g., MyCollegeCalendar, College Board). These organizations serve a more passive role in application assistance. While offered for free, they are essentially a repository for application information, not an interactive facilitator for application assistance and do little if anything to tailor such assistance to students.
Non-profit local mentoring (e.g., College Success Foundation in DC and Tacoma, POWER 4 Youth in Long Beach, university volunteer programming). General high school mentoring is a highly fragmented industry, including both non-profit and university-run volunteer programming that may differ greatly from city to city. Broadly, these organizations provide holistic one-on-one mentoring services to local low-income students. They are rarely located in rural areas, concentrating heavily on urban public school districts within their immediate vicinity, and tend to be confined to the limited local resources. In addition, they face the logistical difficulties of organizing face-to-face mentoring even locally.
AppSuccess offers free, personalized college assistance to low-income students anywhere in the country. This places us in a uniquely unoccupied space of college application assistance:
(1) Unlike for-profit substitutes, we are open to and targeted toward low-income students who most need the guidance but cannot afford it;
(2) Unlike online information services, we include a dimension of one-on-one interaction and guidance with college application “professionals” who have recently gone through the process;
(3) Unlike non-profit mentoring organizations, our Mentors will not only focus on college applications, but will be uniquely matched with Applicants based on mutual characteristics of their profiles. In addition, use of the web-based platform will eliminate geographical constraints, making it easier to link the Applicant need with the Mentor supply in both rural and urban areas.
As a result, we will appeal to the target markets of many of our competitors, while offering services superior to each.