As a college freshman, Michael Carter realized that many students had survived a more circuitous route to college than he had. As we noted last year, Carter did some digging and found out that many well-prepared, but low income students don’t enroll in four year college. He decided to do something about the under-match problem and formed Strive for College, and began recruiting his college classmates to support the post-secondary planning of high school students. He also began recruiting some great board members (and me) to the cause.

After graduation he became the full-time executive director of the nonprofit and launched a national expansion funded by generous families and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. Carter was named a CNN Hero (watch the great video). CNN summarizes, “Strive for College pairs high-school students with college students for free, one-on-one consultation over a yearlong period. Each pair works together through the application process for colleges, scholarships, and financial aid.”

After building a rudimentary decision-support platform to help students pick the best possible college, Carter spotted a couple of key insights—a great college-picking platform would be informative and easy to use and would utilize a combination of social media and predictive analytics. Carter launched a startup, Ustrive, to build the next-gen platform.

Ustrive, now in beta, “is like eHarmony for admissions instead of dating,” said Carter, “It tells students where they are likely to get in and graduate.” Students can drill down into details and find out, for example, that Latino males have a 40 percent chance of graduating at a particular school versus 80 percent at another school. The team is adding social media features so that students in a given high school can all work on applications concurrently.

Virtual breakthrough. Presenting the combination of mentoring and an information platform to potential sponsors in a rural state, Carter landed on another breakthrough–virtual mentoring. Video conferencing technology is not just for family connections and business meetings, it is widely used inspeech therapy and other forms of therapy. Initial trials of virtual student mentoring have been very positive according to Carter who thinks it will become a widely-used strategy in blended counseling systems.

Carter would like to see an earlier start to college and career awareness and thinks “middle school is a good time to get kids focused.”

The combination of a mentor and an information platform can be powerful. Carter mentioned a Pennsylvania junior mentored by students at Carnegie Mellon. Her GPA jumped from 2.7 to 3.2 after learning what GPA she would need to attend her target universities. Michael said, “We weren’t supporting her academically, she just did it just because we helped her understand her goal.”

We interviewed Michael Carter as part of our investigation of next-generation guidance systems. We’ll publish our findings next month. Please let us know if you have examples or ideas for improving college and career readiness for all students; contact us at [email protected].

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