Every year, as the percentage of high school seniors applying to college grows, gaining admission becomes increasingly difficult. The process has been transformed into an industry that preys on this anxiety, commodifying each step along the way from SAT tutors and classes to AP tests to review books.
Web entrepreneur Jordan Goldman ’04 feels there are serious issues with both the ways in which these schools are advertised and, in particular, the often-vague information on which students base their ultimate decision.
“[We need to] move away from impersonal college rankings that don’t tell you what your experience would be like at any particular college,” Goldman said in an interview with the Argus.
After graduating from Wesleyan, Goldman decided to start a website which would publish content about colleges written entirely by the students who went there. In 2007, his idea was realized in the form of Unigo.com, a budding site that now boasts an 18-member editorial staff and has received 35,000 reviews written by over 15,000 students at 267 colleges. On Sept. 19, Jonathan Dee of The New York Times Magazine profiled Unigo in a four-page story examining, among other things, Goldman’s philosophy on the admissions process.
Goldman sees Unigo as a pioneering idea, a grass-roots movement of sorts that offers students a platform to limitlessly discuss what is wrong and right about their schools.
“From the day we launched, we had more content on these schools than all of the assembled books [on the college decision-making process] combined,” Goldman said. “And all of it written by current students, interactive, and 100 percent free.”
Unigo’s content differs from that of The Princeton Review, which is often seen as the gold standard of conventional admissions literature. On Goldman’s website, reviews take the form of videos and photos in addition to standard text. Content can be sorted through the specific demographic of the reviewer: one can search for an African American English major at Princeton or a Caucasian Economics Major at UC Berkeley.
According to Alexa.com, the site rose from relative obscurity to ranking among the top 25,000 American websites after the Times profile was published. Goldman’s team is also planning other new developments in the coming weeks, adding student blogs and college-specific forums to the site.
Goldman has had a unique relationship with the college admissions process since he himself went through it. At the age of 17, Goldman’s agonized entries on a college admissions forum caught the attention of New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg, who proceeded to follow him and three other students for several years. Steinberg turned his investigation into the now-famous account of the Wesleyan admissions process, The Gatekeepers, which used Goldman’s name and went on to become a New York Times bestseller.
Also, during his years at the University, Goldman and another student, Colleen Buyers, wrote “Students’ Guide to Colleges,” a series of college guidebooks that was published in multiple editions from Penguin Books.
Ultimately, Goldman says he enjoyed his time at Wesleyan, though the school ended up being nothing like what he initially expected.
“It was a kind of a fluke that I ended up at a school I loved,” he said.
Unigo itself is “a bit of a Wesleyan story,” according to Goldman, as many members of its staff are Wes alums: Frank Sica ’73, former president of Soros Private Funds Management, is his financial backer, and Tom Rodgers ’76, CEO of TiVo and a former President of NBC, is on Unigo’s advisory board. Two of Unigo’s three Managing Editors and one of the 15 other editors are also all University graduates.
Dean of Admissions Nancy Hargrave Meislahn applauded the website’s recent success, but also felt that its potential effect on the admissions process was still to be determined.
“I think it is too early to tell how much of an impact Unigo will have,” Meislahn said. “It does have some competition in addition to the guidebooks and their websites. It isn’t yet clear to me how different Unigo will be from the College Confidential site, which is quite popular.”
Meg Bowers ’11, a transfer student from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, noted that she could have benefited from the information on Unigo.
“My first college decision felt like a shot in the dark,” she said. “Even though I used every available resource, I knew it was not going to be enough.”
Stories such as Bower’s are not isolated incidents. By presenting an unfiltered look at college-life, Goldman hopes Unigo can help students achieve the supposed goal of the admissions process: being happy with their decision.
“There are so many people desperate for this information—who really want to know what it’s like at these schools,” Goldman said. “This is probably the most important decision that these students have made so far in their lives.”