Saturday, January 31, 2015

Germantown startup helps seniors search for college by enlisting the help of other students
Germantown startup helps seniors search for college by enlisting the help of other students
When Neil Soni, who graduated a few years ago from a high school in Germantown, tried to help his younger brother apply to college last year, he discovered he only knew a lot about one college-- the one he went to.

"I realized I could give him general guidance, but I really couldn't give him" specialized guidance for each school, said Soni, who is now a student at Carnegie Mellon University.

So when his brother expressed interest in the University of Michigan-- a school Soni knew little about-- he looked for buddies who went there. He found a student at Michigan, but he also found a business idea.

"I thought, if I don't know anyone at one school, why isn't there a place I could go online and find someone?" he said.

The College People was born.

Soni's new company aims to match high school students with students at the colleges they are applying to, to provide them with personalized guidance and help in editing the essays on the application, for a fee.

Begun last July, The College People ran a basic service last application season for 10 students at Northwest High School in Germantown. The company is preparing to run a broader pilot this year, and has partnerships with schools in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

The services range from $75 to $150, based on the type of application, and the company is shooting for 100 paying clients this time around.

There are hurdles to the business plan. The application season tends to be short and the clients and advisers are perpetually turning over.

"I think it is a cool idea, but it is an execution issue," said Luke Skurman, who runs College Prowler, a popular Web site where college students provide candid reviews and grade their schools. Skurman has a deal in place with The College People to provide the site with some of his content.

The College People recruits college students through personal networks and through job portals such as It puts them through a series of tests and a training program, and pays them around $20 per hour, Soni said.

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