Over the next few weeks, high school seniors will be repeatedly checking the mail and refreshing their inboxes, anxiously awaiting news of acceptance to the colleges and universities they applied to earlier in the school year.
Any note that kicks off with “Congratulations!” will certainly lift a weight off students’ shoulders, but will also open the door to a slew of new uncertainties. Their anxieties will shift from “Will I get in?” to “What will my dorm be like? Will I like my roommate? Who will I be friends with?” These concerns aren’t uncommon but - beyond admissions or student-launched Facebook groups - incoming freshman and transfers typically have limited options for connecting with enrolled students for real, unfiltered conversations.
Saniuk, FriendlyU CTO, is a full-stack developer and software engineer who taught himself throughout middle and high school. He was wrapping high school and getting ready to head to Rochester Institute of Technology when he connected with Copeland, a graphic designer and photographer who runs her own design company. At that time, Copeland was helping her daughter (Saniuk’s friend) navigate the college application process. The two worked on a few side projects and eventually decided to launch FriendlyU.
“There was no way for me to fully know what life would be like [at RIT] before I got here and experienced it,” Saniuk explains. “I would have loved to talk to people ahead of time and get advice that was from a student and not just admissions.”
While Saniuk had joined his school’s Facebook groups and other forums, he said the format made asking questions intimidating.
“If I have a question someone might consider silly, I don’t want to ask it to the 20K people in a group,” he says. “I’d much rather create a relationship and ask someone who I’ve gotten to know. We really want to focus on that one-to-one relationship, create a friendship, and have it be a safe place to ask questions."
When a student creates a profile on FriendlyU, they can connect with and directly message real students at the schools they’re exploring. For safety reasons, students must have a verified .edu email address to sign up. By attracting a variety of students from represented institutions, FriendlyU aims to give applicants access to transparent conversations and perspectives about the schools they're interested in.
Screenshots of the FriendlyU app.
“The whole platform is built on a pay it forward concept,” says Copeland. “Students want to talk with kids because they have pride in their university and want to shape future of their community. Friendly U is looking to tap that altruistic side.”
Building up & out
FriendlyU is focused on getting a large representation of college students on its platform. It’s currently in beta mode and has about 400 student testers, with college students making up about two-thirds of that figure and high school students accounting for the rest. Eighty-three colleges are currently represented and RIT is its primary institutional tester.
Publicly available data is pulled to create an institution’s profile, and FriendlyU is rolling out the ability for schools to subscribe to the service to manage their information, assign ambassadors, post events, and more. Long term, Copeland says they’re also looking at the possibility of adding functionalities that would gamify the college search process for high schoolers. If all goes accordingly, FriendlyU will offer advanced search features for subscribing schools, allowing them to bid on search placement and rise to the top among results.
“College kids drop out between fresh and sophomore year for a number of factors, but a good share of it is they aren’t finding the right fit,” says Copeland. “Our long range goal is to foster a community that helps college kids find the right fit and be successful.”