USC students launch a matching app to help high school seniors with college enrollment decision during the COVID-19 pandemic

As universities cancel campus tours and in-person admitted student programs, the app seeks to make school choice seamless and less stressful.

Two Marshall students launched an online app to connect high school seniors with current college students, providing hands-on information about colleges for high school applicants who cannot visit campuses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As universities across the nation have shut down school tours because of the coronavirus outbreak, the website, College Connect, seeks to make school choice easier and less stressful by facilitating a direct conversation between applicants and college students.

The founders, Christian Yeghnazar and JP Velasquez, who are both USC students majoring in business administration, hope that through conversations with college students, high school seniors and parents will be able to make more informed decisions about which school to choose.

“My little sister actually is a senior in high school right now. And I saw that her and her friends were a little stressed because they couldn't visit colleges and go to all certain programs the same way I did. So I thought it could be a good resource for them [college and high school students] to connect,” Velasquez told Annenberg Media via a Zoom interview.

College Connect operates through an application system. Potential applicants can sign up as a high school student or parent or as a college student or recent graduate. The site then collects information, like majors and hobbies. It also requires applicants to choose what they’re most interested in learning or talking about, such as campus life and academics, according to the application’s founders.

“We've gotten a lot more demand than we've expected,” Velasquez said. “So we're looking at how we can automate that [the matching process].” Although the site was launched on Tuesday, more than 250 people, including students from more than 60 colleges, have already applied.

“Right now, we're doing it [the matching] manually. And we're basically doing it as a factor of what school the student wants to go to,” said Velasquez. “So for example, if someone in high school wanted to go to USC, they could get matched up with a USC student to chat.”

Velasquez and Yeghnazar have worked together on a previous application, Food Fight, which has a similar algorithm that paired people with potential restaurants they might enjoy. Velasquez explained how this prior experience helped shape College Connect.

“That provided a really good framework for thinking through how to automate two seemingly random groups of people … And that's definitely carried over to help them the thought process for how we're gonna automate two random students,” he said.

Jess Pasquesi, a high school senior from Chicago, Illinois, told Annenberg Media that she is very interested in the concept of the site and has plans to utilize it as she makes her college decision. Pasquesi, who is deciding to attend either Northwestern University or the University of Notre Dame, said she thinks College Connect will remain relevant even after COVID-19 has passed.

“I think that the College Connect idea is very smart,” she said. “Obviously, it makes sense to use during the coronavirus pandemic, but I think that it will grow in popularity in years to come because it gives students the opportunity to make their college decision without physically visiting the campus.”

Although some high schoolers like Pasquesi are interested in the site, the founders are struggling to reach more high school students across the country. Since the founders mainly promoted the app in their network of peers, most of the people who learned about the site are college students, they said.

Among the 250 users, only 15 percent are high school students, Velasquez said.

“It's harder to reach them [high school students] on social media because Instagram ads are more difficult to use, but we're trying to figure out the best way to reach them through social media,” said Yeghnazar.

Velasquez mentioned that they have also reached out to high school counselors and non-profit organizations to increase engagement with high school students.