The 17 Winners Of The Facebook, Gates Foundation’s Education App Contest Are Making College Easier
Back in September, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched a contest that aimed to challenge entrepreneurs and app developers to build awesome, innovative education apps on Facebook's platform. The so-called College Knowledge Challenge kicked off with an EdTech hackathon co-hosted by the Gates Foundation and Facebook, located at the social network's headquarters in Menlo Park.

Back in September, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched a contest that aimed to challenge entrepreneurs and app developers to build awesome, innovative education apps on Facebook’s platform. The so-called College Knowledge Challenge kicked off with an EdTech hackathon co-hosted by the Gates Foundation and Facebook, located at the social network’s headquarters in Menlo Park.

As Josh wrote at the time, the contest called on developers of all ages to create apps that “build pathways to college, build peer groups for in-coming college students and assist with college admission and securing financial aid.”

The co-hosts distributed $18K in hackathon prizes in September, with the winners of the overall challenge vying to earn one of the $100,000 grand prizes. Today, The Gates Foundation and Facebook announced the 17 startups and apps that will be taking home those grand prizes. [For more, see below.]

But first, while social technologies are certainly a fundamental part of the ongoing seachange currently taking place in education, one might ask, why encourage developers and entrepreneurs to build for Facebook? Instead, it might seem as if we should be encouraging builders to focus on disrupting archaic K-12 infrastructures, encouraging WiFi support and penetration in schools, helping low-income students to smart, digital devices and Internet access and push computer science and technology education into the core curriculum of our schools.

To that point, Gates Foundation Deputy Director of Education Stacey Childress said at the time that “social networking sites are emerging as critical platforms for students — and low-income students especially — to allow them to build social capital outside the boundaries of their neighborhoods. Facebook contribues not only to academic success but their persistence as well … They feel more connected and are more likely to stay in school.”

In turn, technology has proven its ability to democratize the access and distribution of information and Elliot Schrage, VP of Public Policy at Facebook added that Facebook’s Open Graph sharing system reduces friction and gives young people the opportunity to have their content or experiences go viral. Bringing social networking and education together, he said, has the power to use sharing to transform the way students live their lives and the way they learn.

The Challenge focuses on developing apps for low-income and first-generation college students in particular, and many of the contest’s winners seek to capitalize on a growing trend within education technology: The personalization of the learning process, especially within the framework of education targeted at low-income and first-generation college students.

But, without further ado, meet the 17 winners of the College Knowledge Challenge, with basic information about the startups copied below:

Applyful — Currently in private beta, Applyful is a collaborative college selection platform, designed for college applicants to collect and share information with one another on the road to choosing a college. As applicants use Applyful to manage research during the application process, Applyful surfaces trends and insights to encourage more informed decision-making, while developing peer groups to offer support and broaden one another’s horizons.

Career Connect by ConnectEDU & CareerVillage — The Career Connect app is a partnership between ConnectEDU, a technology company committed to connecting the world’s learners to life’s possibilities through clear education-to-career pathways, and CareerVillage, an edtech venture that creates social games that prepare students for careers. The Facebook app creates a forum for students to get answers to their college and career planning questions by leveraging their social network. Questions are searchable by any topic and multiple app users can respond to each question.

Coach Me, Beyond 12 — Beyond 12 is a technology-based service organization dedicated to increasing the number of underserved students who graduate from college. The startup’s new app, CoachMe, aims to provide college students with automated alerts delivered to their mobile devices and Facebook accounts to help them keep track of key deadlines. Students will be rewarded, in the form of badges, for completion and mastery of certain tasks and skills, and will be able to share their successes, challenges and key lessons learned with their support network and peers. Ultimately, CoachMe will bridge the “information gap” and help students master the activities, behaviors and habits that increase their success in college – and beyond.

College Abacus — The Chronicle of Higher Education recently announced that College Abacus has given net price calculators “the Kayak treatment”; much as created the “search one and done” experience for travel, College Abacus is the free one-stop search for comparing higher education pricing. Now available in Spanish and English, College Abacus allows college-bound students and their families to search and compare net prices – tuition and fees minus grant aid – across more than 2500 schools (and counting).

CollegeGO by The College Board — The College Board is a not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to connect students to college opportunity and success. The College Board’s “CollegeGo” mobile app is an interactive college action plan that puts under-served students on the path to college enrollment by helping them explore the key components of effective college planning: academics, career discovery, college exploration, paying, and applying. The app takes a step-by-step approach through the process, visualizes student progress, and includes a built-in support and encouragement system.

CollegeZen by The College People — The College People LLC a Pittsburgh based company started by former higher education administrator Wahab Owolabi and Carnegie Mellon University engineering student Neil Soni with the mission of creating software to increase college access and provide tools for education administrators. Their first product is a community centered web application that simplifies the college search, decision, and funding process while enhancing the experience for prospective students and parents with the belief that there is a perfect college for every student.

The FAFSA Community by NerdScholar — The NerdScholar FAFSA Community App will create a Facebook-enabled support network of students, parents, and administrators. This resource will aim to increase the FAFSA completion rate among low income and first-generation college students. By promoting a social community and the support of a peer network, NerdScholar aims to improve financial literacy and enable any student to achieve their college goals. NerdScholar is a service of NerdWallet, empowering students to make better decisions about their higher education.

FastForward by Unigo — FastForward helps high school students, community college students and any college student struggling with their future plans to: visualize potential career paths; develop personalized college/career action plans; and locate resources for taking action. FastForward puts the student in the context of various career paths, using their own photos and Facebook timeline as a starting point for exploration, discovery and planning of careers. Unigo adds FastForward to its growing collection of tools,, one of the largest college resources on the web.

GradBadge by GradGuru — GradGears’ mission is to increase completion rates among community college students and accelerate their path to completion. We build student-centered products that increase retention, reduce drop-out rates, and accelerate students’ academic success. Our first product is GradGuru, your community college advisor in your pocket. Through earning badges, GradBadge helps enrolled community college students more easily understand and learn from their peers what behaviors lead to faster completion. GradBadge leverages the GradGuru platform, Mozilla Open Badges and Facebook.

I’m First by The Center for Student Opportunity — Center for Student Opportunity (CSO) is a national nonprofit empowering first-generation college students on the path to and through college. Our I’m First project is collecting pledges and stories from first-generation college graduates—and students who will be—to inspire the next generation of students who will be first. The I’m First web application will feature tools and resources to help aspiring first-generation college students and their supporters take the steps necessary to pursue and succeed in college.

Logrado by Mission Control Center — Logrado is a social-mobile guidance system to support students in accessing, persisting in and completing college. Students use their mobile phone or Facebook to access interactive missions that guide them through critical steps in preparing for college. Missions leverage Facebook as students collaborate with peers and form personal success teams of family, mentors and friends for encouragement. Logrado enables schools and college access programs to improve the quality and scale of guidance, communication and individualized support for low-income and first generation students.

PossibilityU by Cambium Enterprises — PossibilityU is an online program designed to help students find the college that fits – academically, socially and financially. Its blended learning curriculum and data driven tools are designed to give context to the $1 Million decision that each high school student makes, often with less than 1 hour of individual guidance. The company uses technology to personalize each students search, to visualize important trade-offs in the process, and to persuade them to stay on time/on track.

Raise by Raise Labs — Raise Labs is rethinking how college scholarships are accessed and distributed, particularly for low-income and first-generation college students. The Raise platform enables high school students to earn “micro-scholarships” towards college starting in 9th grade based on their individual achievements and progress towards graduation. Raise helps students pursue their college ambitions with confidence and adds transparency to the scholarships process.

Step2College — Step2College aims to make the college-going process more transparent, cooperative and easier to navigate for all students, and particularly for underprivileged youth. We will build an app that provides a comprehensive and resource-rich list of college readiness tasks which are specific and personalized to the user’s needs, including state-specific requirements. Our app will leverage social media platforms such as Facebook so students can publish the completion of their tasks, connect with friends and access additional functions.

Transfer Bootcamp by The Melville Institute — Transfer Bootcamp is an online guidance application for students seeking to transfer from community college to a four-year university. We build a plan for each student to help them identify their unique goals, graduate from community college on time, select the right courses for transfer and to better understand their financial aid options. Transfer Bootcamp will eliminate the confusion of community college transfer and make higher-education accessible for millions of students.

What’s Your Road by Roadtrip Nation — Roadtrip Nation started in 2001 when a group of friends took a Roadtrip with this simple idea: talk to people who do what they love, and you’ll get a better understanding of how to build a life you love. What started as a Roadtrip sparked a documentary series, live campus events, a video archive of hundreds of interviews, and most recently, curricula and resources to help at-risk students in disadvantaged communities gain access and exposure to life pathways. Roadtrip Nation’s latest endeavor, “What’s Your Road?”, is a virtual roadtrip experience (in Facebook) where youth explore pathways aligned with their aspirations and connect with mentors in those fields.

Zombie College by Get Schooled — Get Schooled is a non-profit that engages and motivates students using the media, technology and popular culture integral to their lives. It has designed Zombie College, an app that will be as entertaining as it is educational. The game has a low barrier to entry – no complex instructions – and is played in short bursts. The twist? The Zombie College game map is the college going map. Students will continually play the game because it is an “addicting game”, while internalizing the key steps to go to college.

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