Giving it the ol’ college try

Giving it the ol’ college try

Former UD student launches interactive college website

By J.T. Ryder

"Marv"

The transition from the safety of your old high school to college life can be quite drastic and the plethora of choices can be overwhelming. There are entire books dedicated to the process of selecting the perfect college or university for your needs and aspirations but alas, even if these books are only a few years old they could be radically out of date. What if there was a website that offered the ability for the prospective student taking a tour to give real-time feedback that not only allowed the school to benefit, but also acted as a tool for the student to keep track of their own experiences at each school and compare it to information from other students? From this is where came the idea Justin Bayer formed into the social/informational website www.welcometocollege.com: his post-high school days touring colleges.

“It’s interesting: My tour of the University of Dayton changed everything. I mean, I had no interest in attending UD when I was a senior in high school, and I had this guidance counselor who kept telling me over and over, ‘Just please go on a visit and check it out because I think it’s a place that will fit you well,’” Bayer said during a recent phone interview. “He kept telling me that and I ultimately got my mom and we came up to Dayton and literally, J.T., that tour of UD took it from nowhere on my radar screen to ‘This is my school!’”

Seeing the importance of the college campus tour, Bayer went on to become a tour guide at UD and then, after finishing his Master’s degree in Vermont, returned to Dayton to run UD’s tour guide program. It was while he was in Vermont that the seed of an idea began to form about creating an interactive website for prospective students to rate all the colleges across the country.

“When I bought the domain name I wasn’t exactly sure how it was all going to pan out, but I loved the name ‘Welcome To College’ and it was available. What I loved about it the most is that it had that ring to it,” Bayer said. He remembered the night he bought the domain name, saying, “The name kept ringing in my head and I got up, no joke, at like 2 a.m. in the morning, after I had been laying in bed thinking about it, and I thought, ‘I should just check and see if it was available,’ and it was, so on May 12, 2004, I paid $16 … and went back to bed.”

After he was back in Dayton, the idea kept fermenting as Bayer saw different aspects of what the college campus tour meant to high school seniors and the universities. Knowing firsthand about the importance of the college campus tour, the direction and purpose of the website began to solidify.

“2006 was when it really started coming to life,” he said. “I thought that this needs to be a site solely focused around the visit and that it needed to be user generated, in much the same way that social media is set up where you can share everything in real time.”

Bayer added, “During this time, while the social media networks were booming, I just kept thinking that this needed to be a hybrid site where it should be fun for students to be involved in.”

While data sharing brings up visions of Big Brother electronically watching your world, the form shared data takes is completely anonymous. By allowing the colleges and universities to subscribe to the website’s database, it allows Welcome To College to remain a free, interactive media for prospective students to use.

“The business model is built around the backend piece that we’ve developed for the colleges and universities. One of the biggest struggles that an admissions office has is getting genuine feedback. The way they do it now is, even with the biggest schools, is at the end of your tour, they just give you a little paper and pen evaluation to fill out. Then they have all this time spent just loading all of these surveys into a database.”

Detailing the differences, Bayer said, “… with Welcome To College, all of that data is already entered, so the schools just subscribe to our database and they can use it as a more accurate survey tool. Now, we are not sharing any personal information. It is all anonymous. The subscribing schools get just the data itself. They’ll get limited data, like what city the prospective student is from, the graduation year and a ton of other data pieces.”

In its current stage, Welcome To College allows a student to set up an account, find schools, set up a planner to schedule campus visits and then rate and compare their perceptions side by side to make an informed assessment of one of the most important decisions of their lives. As the site grows, other facets will be implemented…

“Some of the things that will eventually be implemented would be some achievement-based incentives and I wanted to explain that a little bit,” he said. Bayer went on to explain, “What would happen is, the more things that the student fills out, such as surveys or uploaded pictures or other interactions, they would have a meter that would go up, and when it reached a certain level they would get some free stuff, which would make it a little more engaging for everyone.”

One of the things Bayer and the Real Art Group (developers of the site) are doing is having a nationwide tour with Marv, a high-tech RV, which will help them check out and evaluate college campuses as well as raise their profile. You can check them out at their website (www.welcometocollege.com) or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/welcometocollege) and keep up with all the events they have planned for the summer.

Reach DCP freelance writer J.T. Ryder
at JTRyder@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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