Expert College Advice for Everyone
Santa Monica, California, United States United States
  • Overview
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Company description

ApplyMap is a website that helps high school students decide where to apply to college. The student gives us their grades, test scores, personal information, and school preferences, and our algorithm returns an optimized mix of schools for them to apply to, including dream, reach, match and safety schools. We also give them their probabilities of admission school by school, tier by tier, and overall, and we point out schools they may not have considered. ApplyMap offers similar advice to a good college consultant, except it's online, quantitative, free, and takes less than five minutes.

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Awards and Mentions
Business model

Making Money:

The basic version of ApplyMap is free to use. To make money, we will be doing what we call Contextual Lead Generation.

On the student side, we have data on which colleges students are applying to, what their dream schools are, their chances of getting in, and their academic strengths and weaknesses; on the college side, we have data on essay prompts and admissions deadlines.

When combined with an appropriate suite of service providers, this opens up many interesting possibilities for marketing the right product to the right student at the right time. For instance, if a student really wants to go to Duke but they have worse than average chances of getting in, we can connect them with an essay-editing specialist who went to Duke (or helped others get in) 3 weeks before the deadline hits. 

Ultimately, we want to set up an entire contextually-driven marketplace for getting into college, featuring a range of automated solutions and service providers that our system will recommend as necessary.

We can also do more traditional lead generation for the colleges themselves, who are looking for the right students to maximize their admissions yields.

User Growth and Marketing:

After a year of UX testing and refinement, we started limited online marketing for ApplyMap in July using paid campaigns on Facebook. Since then, we've had about 1000 students create accounts, 800 of whom completed the ApplyMap process -- a very high completion rate for this kind of website. We are currently building social features to encourage viral spread and lower our cost of user aquisition.


UPDATE 8/9/2014


We've grown to about 2500 students and are now adding new users at about 150 a day. Our cost of acquisiton has fallen below $.50 per student.

Questions and Answers:

What does ApplyMap do? What problem does it solve?

Applying to college is more stressful, confusing, and frustrating than ever -- just look at the statistics. 2 million high school students apply to college every single year. 80% of them apply to at least four schools, and 30% apply to at least seven. The most important part of the whole process is choosing a good college list, but it's also the most neglected: according to a College Board study, nearly half of students "under-match" in their college choice.

ApplyMap makes things a lot easier by picking exactly the right schools for your teen to apply to. Our algorithm builds a smart college strategy to help your teen get into a school they will love.

Who built ApplyMap?

ApplyMap was created by Daniel Lim and Steve Palley. Check out our team page to learn more.

How does an ApplyMap strategy help my teen get into a better college without improving the strength of his or her application?

Here's a quick story that might help clarify an ApplyMap strategy's true value.

Suppose you're a hunter who goes into the forest every day to hunt for dinner with a bow and arrow. It's obvious that you could bag bigger and better prey by putting in the effort to become a better overall hunter: building a stronger bow, practicing your archery skills, learning to move quietly through the undergrowth, and so on. But that's not the only route to a tasty dinner. You could also find all of the hidden watering holes and animal trails and have your prey come right to you. You'd never go hungry if you knew exactly where to look, even if you weren't the best archer around.

Now suppose that lots of hunters have moved into your area, and all of the most popular hunting spots in the forest are so crowded that the animals stay away. Which strategy would you adopt now?

All of this is to say that working harder on grades, test scores, extracurriculars and essays is never a bad idea in the college applications game. The stronger your teen's application, the higher their ceiling will be. But in today's admissions environment, working smarter is just as important. ApplyMap's strategy engine goes off the beaten path to find schools that could be a great fit for your teen, and then assembles these schools and others into a college list--a personalized strategy--that perfectly balances risk and reward within the parameters you set. Now that's smart!

Where do I learn more about the technology behind ApplyMap?

Right here on our technology page.

I've already got a great college counselor/consultant. Why should I use ApplyMap?

While you can still get into a great school without using a counselor or consultant, we know that the extra help and insight provided by these professionals can be really valuable. To be clear, we didn’t build ApplyMap to replace your counselor or consultant. In fact, ApplyMap can help you get more bang for your counseling buck, because no matter how good your counselor or consultant is, they probably aren't a statistician. We see ApplyMap as the perfect quantitative supplement to your counselor's qualitative expertise. Our tool is an excellent starting place for a larger college search conversation between you, your teen, and your counseling professional. It's also a perfect "sanity check" to make sure that your collaborative college list isn't too aggressive--or not aggressive enough.

How accurate are ApplyMap's admissions predictions?

Using only unweighted GPA and SAT/ACT scores, we can accurately predict between about 60% of admissions outcomes. While 60% may not seem very high, this success rate is as good or better than any competing college chance tool that we are aware of. Also, the true value of an ApplyMap strategy comes from predicting joint and conditional probabilities across many schools and creating diversified portfolios, not by predicting your chances of getting into any particular school.

What about my teen's college essays, extracurriculars, recommendations, and other 'soft' factors? Don't they matter too?

They absolutely do, especially when applying to truly elite colleges and universities. Those impossible-to-quantify factors are responsible for the other 40% of admissions outcomes. Neither we nor any other website can accurately predict how colleges will respond to those factors. For instance, your essay is read by an individual person--an admissions essay reader--and there is no way of telling how it will resonate with him or her. We've decided to leave soft factors out of our algorithm entirely, rather than include them and provide misleading results.

Is there an ApplyMap for grad school applications? How about private high schools? Or transfer students?

While we are currently focusing on the undergraduate college application process, we plan to expand our services to include transfer, graduate and private high schools! More details coming soon. 

Does ApplyMap work for international students?

Not yet, but we will be building special versions of ApplyMap for foreign students in the near future, probably starting with China and Korea.

Competitive advantage

1. Better Data

When you and your teen are making a big decision about the future, you need to have maximum information on hand. ApplyMap combines three major datasets — the Common Data Set, IPEDS, and US Census — to give you the data you need to make the right choice. With ApplyMap on your side, you have instant access to almost 4 million data points — over 500 data points per school – across seven distinct data categories. Other college sites like College Compass simply cannot compete.

2. More Precise Predictions

Arm yourself with cutting-edge statistics developed at UCLA. In head-to-head tests ApplyMap’s algorithm blows the competition away. That is not a surprise, because the competition relies on inaccurate crowdsourced data, where teens swap admission probabilities with each other. This is a fun game, but it is not a good basis for making important college decisions. With ApplyMap, you get predictive data straight from the source, resulting in better predictions.

3. Portfolio Optimization

College is an investment, and like any investment, diversification is key to building a smart college strategy. ApplyMap’s patent-pending algorithm mathematically diversifies your college list. We search trillions of possible list combinations to give you the best-fitting list of dream, reach, match, and safety schools in seconds. Portfolio optimization is your secret weapon in the college admissions war.

4. Improved College Fit

What’s worse: not going to college at all, or going to the wrong college? ApplyMap’s technology insures that you will never have to answer this question, because you will nail college fit on the first try. Don’t just apply to the best schools and call it a day. Use ApplyMap to locate the best schools for you. You will be happier, learn more, get better grades, develop more skills, graduate on time, and get a better job after graduating.

5. Easier To Use

ApplyMap does more than optimize your teen’s college selection. It also optimizes your time and saves you stress. Every step in the process is clear, easy to understand, and incredibly fast. Five minutes with ApplyMap saves you hours and hours of college research on other sites. You deserve a college command center that appreciates your valuable time. Get the college information you need, in a clear and straightforward format, almost instantly.


Howard Marks
co-founder Activision, CEO Acclaim Games, Managing Partner of StartEngine.