EAB’s Tisleen Singh and Emily Niedermaier discuss the emergence of Appily, a new online resource that streamlines the college exploration process for teens and enables colleges to connect with more prospective applicants. The two examine findings from a new survey of more than 6,000 students that highlights a strong correlation between adolescent mental health and college-going behaviors. They also offer suggestions to admissions leaders on how to engage prospective applicants in a way that will make these students more confident in their ability to find their people and their purpose in college.
0:00:11.0 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to office hours with EAB. Today we explore a powerful new online resource that enables prospective applicants to explore colleges and that gives colleges a great way to connect with students who may be a good fit for their institution. Give these folks a listen and enjoy.
0:00:35.2 Tisleen Singh: Hello, and welcome to office hours with EAB. My name is Tisleen Singh, and I’m a Senior Director of Partner Success here at EAB. In my professional life, I’ve focused on working to streamline college access and attainment. This has always been important work, but perhaps now more than ever, as the perception about the value and the cost of college has increased, more and more prospective students are actually opting out of college entirely. While for some, that might be the right decision, we know that earning a college degree remains one of the most effective ways to improve one’s standard of living. We know a college degree doesn’t guarantee a large income, but college graduates will, on average, earn more than a million dollars more over their lifetime than those without a college degree.
0:01:22.5 TS: And while I know that the cost can always be a barrier for students and families, it’s actually for many students, particularly, who would be the first in their family to go to college. It’s the entire college exploration and application process that can seem impossibly complex. So today we’re going to talk about ways to streamline that process that are good for students and good for institutions. Joining me in this conversation is my colleague, Emily Niedermaier. Emily, would you mind introducing yourself and telling us briefly what you do at EAB?
0:01:55.9 Emily Niedermaier: Hey, Tisleen, thank you so much for having me on today. Super excited to get to chat with you in this environment. But yeah. Hi, I’m Emily Niedermaier. I’m the senior director of marketing for Appily, which means I am the one connecting students all across America to colleges in this country to help streamline their process from high school to college in a way that benefits them and also benefits the institutions that we work with at EAB. It’s a fulfilling role, and it’s been a pleasure to be a part of the team.
0:02:36.2 TS: Awesome. Well, we’re excited for the conversation today. So to jump right in, I wanted to start talking about some of the studies that we’ve seen recently, and some of them have been conducted by EAB. But we know that they’re showing that students are increasingly concerned about whether college is the right fit for them. What can you tell us about what’s driving those concerns and what resources students are relying on to inform their decisions about whether they should go to and apply to college?
0:03:03.2 EN: Yeah, that is a great question. And that’s the thing that keeps me up at night, right? Is making sure that we’re setting students up for success not only for college itself, but also in the journey to college. We’ve been doing a lot of surveys recently with our students on appily.com to figure out what they feel like are their biggest barriers to a smooth transition to college. And then after college, how do they feel they can be most successful?
0:03:40.9 EN: And so what we’re learning is that these students are much more anxious than the generations before them. This is really most apparent in these survey responses. One of the main questions we asked is what is the most challenging aspects about the college search process? And really all of their top answers boiled down to a lack of confidence in knowing that the decision that they’re making is the right one. So some of the survey answers that they stated were, I don’t know that I’m making a good choice. I don’t know what to search for. I’m not finding the information that I need in this process. There’s too little information or there’s too much information, or I don’t know who to talk to for help.
0:04:24.2 EN: And when you look at all of those things together, really, these kids don’t feel confident in the choices that they’re making on their way to college. And so we took all of this information and decided to do something that really supports them through this process. And so we at EAB have created Appily to help smooth the journey to college, but also keep them up to date on all of the changes that are happening in the landscape too. So we know the FAFSA changed recently. We’ve had this introduction of direct and reverse admissions platforms and we need to educate students on what that means for them. The rise of test optional applications and more, it’s really a lot. And so we wanted to do something through EAB and that became Appily to help them through this process.
0:05:22.7 TS: Kind of like a one stop shop for figuring out the search process and then actually not just searching, but it sounds like actually applying and figuring out what are my next steps.
0:05:33.4 EN: Exactly. Yes, totally.
0:05:37.3 TS: Okay, so I know that you’re also working on a new survey now. I’ve heard it’s about over 6000 students to explore the impacts of the worsening adolescent mental health crisis that we’re facing and how that’s actually impacting the college going behavior. What was most surprising that you learned from that survey?
0:05:57.3 EN: That is a great question. We’re publishing an insight paper pretty soon that will go in depth into these points, but essentially, we learned that nearly one third of high school students who are currently applying or considering applying to college cite mental health concerns as one of the reasons that they may choose to delay enrollment or opt out of college entirely. And this issue is even more prominent among underrepresented student populations. So trans students, non binary students, black, Native American, and female students feel these mental health concerns much more than traditional student going population… Than traditional college populations.
0:06:40.8 EN: And so we know that these kids are stressed out, and they’re also concerned that they’re not going to be able to find their community when they do get to college. So any tools or information that we can offer to help them feel confident that, yes, I’m going to be able to find my people when I get to school, and I’m going to be successful academically, socially, safety wise, all of those things are really important to kids right now when they’re looking for colleges to attend and making sure that it’s the right fit for them.
0:07:18.1 TS: So those are some really startling statistics. We know that the mental health crisis for our young adults and teens has been an issue in this country for a long time, but it seems like the pandemic has kind of exacerbated these issues, and it’s affecting how our students are looking at college and staying in college. I know that in talking with my college partners, there’s tons of resources for when the students get on campus to help students feel part of the community and retain and things of that nature. But what are things that our college partners could or should be doing actually, during the recruitment process to let students know that these resources are available to them when they get there.
0:08:02.6 EN: Yeah, that’s great. And that’s exactly it. We know that colleges are… They realize this, too. These statistics are staggering, but they’re not brand new. And so colleges have been working to put mental health programs and affinity group support services on their campuses, and now it’s time to let potential applicants know that these services exist and that they’re important to those institutions, that it’s not just checking a box to say, yes, we have LGBTQ+ support systems, we have disability housing on campus, yes, of course, those things are great, but we need to communicate that those services exist and those safe spaces exist to potential applicants.
0:08:50.0 TS: And it really all goes back to our conversation earlier about helping students make confident college choices, making sure that they know that they’re going to be happy and successful at the institution that they choose. And a huge component of that is knowing that the college is going to support them in the necessary ways to find that happiness.
0:09:11.2 EN: That is a great question, Tisleen, and I’m going to take a step back and talk a little bit about how Appily came to be. Essentially, EAB joined forces with several student facing brands over the past couple of years to bring this one stop shop together to create this all in one platform for students. Essentially, we took the incredible college search tools and functionality from Cappex, the services and support for underrepresented and first-generation college students from College Greenlight, the immersive virtual tours from YouVisit, and our reverse admissions platform through Concourse. We brought those all together, all these best-in-class resources to create this one stop shop for students that will help them at every step in their journey to college.
0:10:04.5 EN: So essentially making these tools more useful, more convenient and more impactful for students and their families and then ultimately making those college connections. So serving our college and university populations who are trying to connect with these students, making those connections much more seamless. And so now that those individual products had been a part of the EAB family for some time, we decided to bring them all together. So again, Appily is built to support students at each step in the college journey.
0:10:37.6 EN: Really, no matter where they’re starting in the process, if they are a freshman or a sophomore in high school and just starting to figure out what should I major in, what do I want to be when I grow up? All the way up to seniors who have decided, here’s my shortlist of schools that I’m ready to apply to, but now I need to figure out how am I going to pay for it? Where can I find scholarships? Appily is meant to serve each and every one of those students.
0:11:01.1 EN: We also have resources for transfer students and adult students and students who want to go back and complete their degree as well. So it’s really our goal to be the premier destination for students to plan, decide and apply to college with confidence. There are a few other things Appily can do besides exploring those college profiles, but they can also get matched with colleges based on the student’s own preferences. They can calculate their chances of acceptance to specific schools, take immersive virtual college tours, find scholarships, and also access a ton of parent and counselor resources as well.
0:11:47.4 EN: We connect students to colleges in a couple of different ways. Ultimately, the first is through Appily Match, which is the reverse admissions platform powered by Concourse. Students create one profile and can start receiving real offers of admission and scholarships from schools that are interested in them. So in this method, students don’t directly identify schools that they’re interested in. But schools can reach out directly through anonymized profiles and submit real offers.
0:12:16.3 EN: The other way we connect schools and students is when students do identify the schools in which they’re interested, and then schools can integrate those students into their enrollment marketing campaigns.
0:12:28.9 TS: Wow.
0:12:29.5 EN: Yeah. That’s really powerful.
0:12:31.0 TS: Yeah. Thank you. It’s been certainly a labor of love bringing all of these pieces together. But ultimately, we want our college and university partners to think of Appily as their top top top funnel marketing support service, where we are marketing higher education as a whole to college students and trying to streamline this application and admissions process to make the middle to bottom of the college funnel even more… Gosh. To make it work even better for our college and university partners.
0:13:09.1 TS: Yeah. The hope is that it can serve… It sounds like a lot of different stakeholders from students’ families, counselors, CBO counselors. It’s just really going to be a powerful resource that hopefully becomes this household name that when students and families are sitting at the kitchen table, that they can think of this resource to come to. And I wonder if Appily has that on their website. Emily, I have to ask, can you tell us a little bit of the name and where it came from?
0:13:38.3 EN: Yeah. Oh, gosh, I would love to. Love to share that. We, as a team, we brainstormed probably a thousand different brand name ideas for Appily. We did a bunch of brand equity surveys and student surveys to also get their feedback. We did some focus groups with students and parents and counselors. So we really did our due diligence in naming Appily. But ultimately, we landed on it for three primary reasons. And those are, it’s Appily. It’s happily, it conveys this idea of growth and positivity and confidence. Again, that is such a cornerstone of this brand. We’re trying to remove that stress and anxiety that we talked about earlier. And the name Appily is one of those ways to help convey that.
0:14:37.3 EN: The second reason is that it’s all about college applications. So we want to make that journey to applying even easier. And so having app in the name was really important.
0:14:52.5 TS: Got it.
0:14:54.5 EN: Yeah. And then finally, the third reason is all of these brands that we brought together, each had their own distinct identity. And so we decided that it made the most sense to create something new when we brought everything together. And so we wanted to pick something that wasn’t necessarily a real word, but was indicative of how unique this tool is and how we intend to transform the education experience for today’s teens in the same way that we are transforming the brand name.
0:15:32.7 TS: I love it, I love it.
0:15:33.6 EN: But Tisleen I know part of your role has been working closely with our college and university partners in general, helping them reach their goals, their enrollment goals, and their marketing goals, and then also introducing them to Appily has been a big part of your job, too. So I’m curious to hear from your perspective how colleges have been making the most of Appily and how they’ve been engaging and benefiting from this transition.
0:16:07.7 TS: Yeah, there’s been a lot of different ways that our college partners and colleges in general have been benefiting from this. We have partners that have worked with us on a variety of these former platforms to reach out and get information to students about what resources they have to offer. But we’ve all been on a variety of platforms. So I think everyone’s really excited to bring all this information to one place and to hopefully capture more students and more parents and family and just have more robust information.
0:16:41.2 TS: So partners have been really excited about the formation of Appily and bringing everything together. And there’s a couple of different ways that our college partners will actually, all colleges in general, honestly will be able to engage with students. So our partners that work with us, we would make sure that they actually first have a profile that is custom on the website. So the information will be unique to them, but will also be unique to the student that’s interacting with the platform. So, for example, if a transfer student is searching for information on XYZ College, the platform will pick up that it’s a transfer student looking and will make sure that the student is specifically seeing transfer information about that school.
0:17:27.5 TS: And then in the same context, if it’s a first-generation student to college that is researching a university, that university or college may have chosen to put up information about bridge programs or To & Through programs or peer mentorship programs that may be of interest to that specific student. So it’s really nice that it’s a place for schools to have like a custom billboard based off of the audience that’s looking at them.
0:17:52.0 TS: Another way that we work with our college partners is that they’re also able to identify students that may be best fit for their institution based on a variety of information that the students have provided in their profiles. So students will share, for example, if they’re interested in studying abroad or if they’re opening to attending a religious institution. And that just helps make stronger connections for both the school and the student in which they’re marketing to.
0:18:21.7 TS: So I always like to say, think about it as a dating app. Both parties are putting in the information and their preferences about their ideal match. And then we’re taking that information from our college partners and our students, and we’re connecting them. But one thing that I want to make sure is really important to mention is that we are putting information on all colleges and universities. We pull information from multiple databases, regardless if they’re a partner of ours or not, just to ensure this is a best in class resource for students, parents, and counselors. And then we use all that information that we collect to match and introduce students to schools that may have never been on their radar.
0:19:04.7 EN: That’s great. I’m sure that it’s so beneficial for students, too. We all grow up wanting to go to college where our parents went, right? But as we get older, we start to figure out how we’re different and what our own preferences and…
0:19:22.3 TS: Totally.
0:19:22.8 EN: What our own preferences are and what we’re looking for in terms of attributes offered by a college. And it’s so nice that we can help match students based on what they’re actually looking for, ultimately.
0:19:34.2 TS: I’m a product of this. I ended up at a school that was completely opposite than where I thought I would end up and had the best experience. So I love to see it. So now that we’re here, we’re past the launch and creation of Appily and all of those hours of hard work. What is next? What are you working on next for Appily and what’s to come?
0:19:57.4 EN: Oh, man, this is my favorite question. And it goes back to exactly what you were saying earlier. Our goal is to create this premier destination for student support, resources and college connections. It’s my personal dream. I’m a marketer, so it’s my dream that somebody says, Hey, I’m really wondering what the ROI on college looks like at this particular school, if I want to be a graphic designer. And then I want them to think, Oh, you know what? I bet Appily has that. I bet Appily has some tool that can help me figure that out. And we do. And that’s what we want. We want word of mouth. We want, gosh, maybe one day a Super Bowl ad. You never know. We want to make Appily a household name, but we want to do it because the resources that we’re offering and the tools that we’re creating are really going to move the needle in terms of helping students find success at college. And so some of the ideas that we’re playing around with right now are integrating AI. That’s a huge buzzword.
0:21:00.9 EN: What can we do to help answer students questions, maybe even before they even realize that they have that question maybe we can think proactively about how to best help them. Eventually. We want to have a mobile app, too. That’s also in the name Appily. So meeting students where they’re at is an important goal. And of course they are right now always on their smartphone. Aren’t we all? So we really just want to be the name people think about when they think of college admissions and application resources.
0:21:36.8 TS: I love it. You heard it here first, Emily, so I know. Thank you for playing 20 questions with me. I’ve been asking you a lot of questions. Do you have any questions for me?
0:21:47.6 EN: Yes. So I know you have spent so much time talking with our incredible college partners about Appily. Introducing them to it, certainly, but also getting feedback from them and having really open and honest conversations about how students are engaging with the tool and how admissions teams are able to best leverage Appily to suit their enrollment needs. So I’m curious, based on those conversations, what are the top pieces of advice that you share with admissions teams in terms of streamlining the college search journey and how they can engage with these students in a way that will help make them more confident in their ability to find their people and their purpose when they’re at college?
0:22:34.9 TS: Such a good question. I think, the benefit that I love of working at EAB is that we have all these resources and these knowledge from all of the studies that we’ve done that really support the journey and the creation of Appily, but also just things that we know from our research that we can share with our partners. So I would say I’ll give you my top three pieces of advice that I share with our partners. So the first thing I would say is just to be visible where students are, we know that we need to be flexible and we need to meet students where they’re at. Just taking into account all the things that we talked about today with the mental health resources and the trepidation that students are having of staying in college, we just need to be more flexible. We’ve been an industry that has done things a certain way for a very long time, and I encourage admissions teams to change it up.
0:23:29.4 TS: Make sure your brand is visible where students are engaging, and introduce yourself early when they’re determining what their priorities and their preferences are. The earlier students engage with students and the earlier students are introduced to a brand, the more likely they are to actually apply to that school. Enroll at that school. So it’s never too early to start engaging with students and making sure that they’re seeing your brand when they’re just browsing.
0:24:00.5 EN: And we see that come up in our studies, right Tisleen? That students are more likely to consider your institution the earlier you begin those conversations.
0:24:10.8 TS: Basically, I think if you are engaging with a sophomore, they’re two times more likely to enroll at your university than meeting them at a different point in time. Yeah, so it’s definitely… It’s important for creating college access and college awareness, but it’s important for you to be recruiting for future classes. So it’s definitely a worthy engagement and effort.
0:24:35.1 TS: The second thing, kind of along those lines of being flexible and being where students are at is I would say it’s really time for us to diversify our list sources. So I would say consider changing your approach with the changing times and the changing trends. Students are not searching the same ways that they did in the past. Therefore, we have to be open to looking at where we’re sourcing student information from. I think we just can’t rely on assessments and college fairs to connect with students anymore. Students are connecting with your institution all the time, but on new corners of the internet. Be in those corners. Diversify your sources. Because students are entering the college search process all the time.
0:25:18.0 TS: They’re not just entering at the time that they sat down to take a test or an assessment. So I think that we need to not rely on the way that we’ve always found students, but also figure out where can we meet them when they’re raising their hand as a sophomore or when they’re scrolling on the internet and they come across your brand. So we need to evolve with the times and the trends that have changed.
0:25:48.5 TS: And then lastly, the thing I would say is just we know we need to present our brands authentically, yet meaningful to the questions students want answered. I think now we’re in that generation of TikTok and swiping, and they say that the attention span for this generation is about like seven seconds. So students are looking for authentic information in a bite size format. So make sure your institution’s brand is addressing the critical concern students have in terms of the mental health support that we talked about, finding their community and being successful during and after college. These are things that students and parents care about most. So be sure to address these topics when students are engaging with your institution.
0:26:33.1 EN: That’s so insightful. And I can certainly support that with data from what we’re seeing on Appily. Our partners who have that digital billboard, that premium profile page on Appily, on average receive four times as many inquiries. And I genuinely think that’s because our partners are presenting their brand authentically. There’s customizable content blocks for different messaging points in multimedia, and it lets them really showcase themselves and what they want to communicate most to the students in a really interesting, and to your point, bite-size way that I think students have been finding really interesting.
0:27:18.1 TS: Yeah, I think we need to just think about it. Like, the way that we’re scrolling the internet nowadays, the way that we’re doing things on our phone, it’s probably even faster and quicker to the students that we’re trying to reach. We need to kind of evolve the way we’re marketing to this different generation. I think that’s all that we have time for today, Emily. Thank you so much for joining me. This has just been so exciting and such a great journey to be with you on in learning about the creation of Appily, watching it launch, and just so excited to see what’s next.
0:27:54.3 EN: Thank you so much for having me, Tisleen. It’s been a blast and as always, it’s such a pleasure to work with you.
0:28:00.1 TS: Same to you. Thanks, everyone. Thanks for listening and hope everyone has a good day.
0:28:09.2 Speaker 1: Thank you for listening. Please join us next week when our experts offer advice to community college leaders on better ways to recruit and serve applicants whose college search behaviors have been heavily influenced by their experiences during the pandemic. Until then, thank you for your time.