by Harrison Howe
Jordan Goldman is no stranger to the field of education: besides working in it for the past decade, his mother has been a public school teacher for 35 years. Once upon a time, though, Goldman - named 'One of the Top 30 Young Entrepreneurs in America' (Inc. Magazine) and 'One of the 100 Most Influential People in New York Business and Technology' (Silicon Alley Insider) - was one of those overwhelmed and frustrated applicants stumbling through the college admissions process. He felt that the college guidebooks available at the time didn't give enough real insight into every school. Thus, Goldman decided to take matters into his own hands. The result? Unigo.com, which with a half-million monthly visitors is considered one of the largest resources on the Web for students to 'find, get in and pay for college.'
Study.com: What are the origins of Unigo?
Jordan Goldman: When I was an undergraduate freshman, I proposed to top publishers a series of college guidebooks written by current students. Penguin Books responded positively, so every year I studied I put out The Student's Guide to Colleges, a look at the top 100 schools in the country completely written by current students. I updated it every year, and it became one of the most prominent college guidebooks in the country. After I graduated, I stopped doing the books and wondered what came next. I really felt that there was a need for something that was online and free to reach a lot more people, something that had both information on how to get in and pay for college and information about what it's really like to go to college, but updated in real time with photos and videos and interactivity.
About two and a half years ago I launched Unigo as a platform where college counselors could plug in to help kids get into college and students could plug in to talk about what it's really like in colleges throughout the U.S. Today, we have more than 250,000 reviews from students all over the country. We power college reviews for U.S. News and World Report and USA Today.
Study.com What challenges did the site face when it started, and how did you overcome them?
JG: I started Unigo when I was 25, so I had come from the traditional publishing world and had already been working with students to create school reviews and help families. I really didn't know much about creating an Internet site. I would say over the past couple of years I've learned a lot. All sites evolve as users operate them. I've learned what people like and don't like about our site by talking to users and asking what they would find really helpful, what we can do to make their favorite things on the site better.
We're working more and more closely with publishers McGraw-Hill, who recently invested in us. We've been very lucky that with their funding we've been given the resources to keep the site 100% free and to continue changing our product to make it more user-focused.
On our site there's a button that says 'Let us know what you think' on every single page. You can click on it and give us immediate positive or negative feedback. I'm the founder and CEO and I read every single message that comes in. If someone has an idea for us we take it very seriously, and if it's a good idea typically in a month or so you're going to see it implemented on the site.
Incidentally, we just re-launched the entire site. We took all of the feedback we had gotten over the past two years and redesigned and reformatted everything based on what our users told us they wanted most.
Study.com Maybe no one does it quite the way you do it, but online resources for college students and counselors are becoming popular. How would you compare yourself to any competition out there?
JG: I think the way we differentiate our site is that it hosts completely user-generated content. Everything there comes from either a counselor or a student. When you come to Unigo you're going to see, on any given day, literally thousands of new pieces of advice and reviews from counselors and students all over the country.
We're not static. We're very much a community of some of the top counselors and students who are constantly giving new insight to what it takes to get into college and what it's really like when you actually get there. That perspective is important. You can say 'Only show me advice from counselors who are experts in essays' or 'Only show me reviews of Brown that are written by conservative students from the south.' That's where we differ.
Speaking of college counselors: nationally there's only one college counselor for every 500 students, and counselors tend to spend about 30 minutes on each student per year. We've made it easy for them to come to our site and create content. They can send their students to us and let them see all of the counselor's advice in one place.
Going to college tends to be one of the most expensive decisions you'll make in your entire life. When you get ready to go, in a lot of cases you visit the campus once for about two hours, you get a pre-packaged campus tour and that's it. You're making a decision about something that's going to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars, that's going to impact years of your life, and you're making it based on two hours. So we want to extend students' research time and make sure they make the right decision.
Study.com Do you ever get specific feedback from students or maybe parents who say they wish this was around when they were going to college? Do you hear from specific people you're helping?
JG: That's another great thing: we get feedback on every page. A lot of it is people saying how helpful they find us. We talk to alumni, we talk to colleges, we talk to parents who say our service provides a little more insight than the alternatives.
Unfortunately, marketing materials from a school don't always represent the true experience of going to that school. At Unigo we want to show you what it's actually like from the point of view not just of a student there but of a student there who's just like you. We get a lot of people who come back to us and say they haven't seen that anywhere else, that it's something unique that makes their decision a whole lot easier.
The other nice thing is you can track students whose reviews you read. When you come back a week later and they've uploaded a new video or another review you're going to get notified right away.
Study.com What are your future plans for Unigo?
We're constantly learning more from our users, and we've learned that it's not about what we want to do with the site, it's what the community wants. We really let that guide our evolution over time.
Study.com Is there anything else about Unigo you'd like our readers to know?
If you're a high school student or parent, we have lots and lots of free content, and it's always growing. Additionally, we really welcome your feedback on what we can do better.
If you're a college counselor, we want to give you an opportunity to reach a lot more students than you presently do. That helps you get a lot more advice out there to make it easier for people to apply, pay for and get into college. Every college counselor can have their own page on Unigo. This is something that's kind of unique.
Finally, if you're a college student that loves your school, this is a platform you can use to talk about it. We really push students not just to review their school but to tell their story of life there. What's it like studying your major? How does your background play into your experience? Our site's also a platform for positive change. In the past we've seen schools that read the reviews on Unigo and if they see a lot of students complaining about an issue they actually do something to fix it. They're picking up on Unigo's power, and they're changing because of it.
Find out why some current students chose the college they now attend.