A lot of questions came up when I applied for and went through college. Questions like:
When is the FAFSA due?
But what if you could send a text to get immediate answers to these questions? Answers like:
The 17/18 FAFSA is due by June 30, 2018, but I'd recommend submitting it as soon as you can to ensure that you don't miss out on available aid or state and college deadlines.
AdmitHub, an edtech startup that’s creating conversational artificial intelligence (AI) to guide students to and through college, is trying to make that happen. (In fact, the conversation above was one that we had with the company’s chatbot, Oli.) Today, the Boston-based company announced it has raised $2.2 million in seed funding to develop Oli and other campus-specific chatbots, grow its team, and expand the service to more U.S. and international institutions.
Co-led by Relay Ventures and Reach Capital, with participation from University Ventures and others, the funding round follows a previous $800,000 that the company pulled after participating in 2015 Techstars accelerator program. Combined, AdmitHub has raised a total $2.95 million in seed funding.
“We’ve done a heck of a lot of work to create an excellent experience with the bot, but we have only just scratched the surface,” said Andrew Magliozzi, CEO and co-founder of AdmitHub. “We are really excited that we can leverage the collective intelligence of experts across the country to train our bots to deliver free guidance to students.”
Oli, the company’s main chatbot, operates 24/7 via text and Facebook messenger to answer general inquiries ranging from financial aid to admission exams like the SAT. Plus, it even shows a bit of personality along the way (“the Styx classic ‘Mr. Roboto’ is pretty cool,” he’ll tell you).
AdmitHub also partners with campuses directly to create institution-specific chatbots that help students with questions directly tailored to a particular college. Instead of Oli, the bot is personified by the campus’ mascot—like at Georgia State, where students interact with a bot named after the school’s spirited blue panther, Pounce.
But like their human counterparts, these bots aren’t perfect. For example, when we asked Oli about which colleges have environmental science programs, it responded:
So many colleges offer study abroad experiences that it is too hard to count! Even if your college does not offer study abroad opportunities, you still may be able to study abroad through programs outside of your own institution.
Useful information, but not exactly what we’re looking for.
While Oli has a bit of a learning curve ahead, Magliozzi explains that the chatbots are not meant to answer every question that a student might dish. For questions that require a human touch, the bots will notify experts who can best answer them.
“If a student says ‘I'm the first person in my family to go to college, can you please help?’” Magliozzi explains, “we tell them about FAFSA and also notify a counselor. That’s not the type of thing you send a text message to respond to.”
For institutions using AdmitHub, the chatbot serves three main purposes: to scale up support for students by automating responses to frequently asked questions; to provide admissions officers more data and insight to student progress; and to get personalized help to the students who need most it by reducing the amount of repetitive conversations admissions staff receive.
“We make it a point to meet students where they are at via text message,” says Magliozzi. “And the last thing employees at schools want is another dashboard, so we meet them where they are too, which is usually by email.”
In addition to Georgia State, AdmitHub currently has partnerships with higher-ed institutions including West Texas A&M University, Bowling Green State University, Allegheny College and The Cooper Union. Pricing varies according to the needs of the college; however AdmitHub says it generally charges institutions between $10 to $25 per student.
According to a prepared statement by Scott Burke, assistant vice president for undergraduate admissions at Georgia State, the bots have already proven themselves useful: “To handle more than 185,000 messages with 3,600 students without AdmitHub would have required us to hire at least ten full-time staff members.”
The company plans to reveal more data on how Pounce is helping Georgia State students and admissions officials in March at SXSWedu.