ckialogoLauren McKibben is the co-founder of CollegeKnowItAll.com and a member of the Higher Education Management Group. In this interview, Lauren describes the business model behind this new venture.

KH: Can you start by giving us an overview of College Know It All?

LM: College Know It All (CKIA) is a student generated college rankings website that serves as a marketplace for connecting colleges with prospective students.

Current students and alumni rate their school in a variety of categories and provide comments with their own personal experiences. Prospective college students can then freely access this information in an effort to alleviate the stressful and costly process of shopping for colleges.ckiaprofilepic3

In addition to the ranking of four-year colleges, the Web site also features a job board with job and internship opportunities for college students, as well as a CKIA Blog with a diverse collection of articles on the college admissions process, financial aid, campus life, and college academics.

KH: How has the way in which traditional college students (18-24) select schools changed in recent years?

LM: In the last 5 -10 years, the Internet has drastically changed the college selection game. With the click of a mouse, prospective college students can access a wealth of information including academic major listings, tuition costs, application requirements, campus e-tours, and available scholarships at any particular college.

In addition, the free and ubiquitous nature of the Internet has also increased the college applicant pool, as socio-economic gaps close and more and more students attend college each year. This has created a demand for acquiring and retaining the best applicants and many students are no longer selecting colleges because colleges are busy trying to select them.

To reach this Internet savvy audience, colleges have focused less on traditional media (direct mailings, billboards, TV, radio, etc) and allocated a significant amount of their marketing budgets toward Internet advertising including banner ads, e-mail newsletters, search engine marketing, and lead generation. College-advisory businesses, too, have changed their approach from selling guide books in Barnes and Noble to offering online subscriptions.

More recently, in the last two years, Web 2.0 and social media has begun to play a large role in college selection. Social networking sites (Facebook.com and MySpace.com), user-generated sites (Youtube.com and Yelp.com), and niche blogs have created a platform for consumers to voice opinions, share information, and pose and answer questions in a very viral setting.

College Know It All aims to capitalize upon the amalgamation of user-generated reviews, post-secondary education information services, and online lead generation in a social media platform.

KH: Who are your competitors in this market?

LM: We compete with the traditional college advisory companies who sell college ranking guides such as Princeton Review, US News and World Report, and Petersons.

In addition, there are a number of websites that offer free user-generated college reviews (but not rankings) including http://www.unigo.com and http://www.campuscompare.com.

KH: How does CollegeKnowItAll.com differ from the traditional college ranking models like US News and World Report?

CKIA is the antithesis to traditional college ranking models. Here is a breakdown of differences:

Traditional College Ranking Models

  • Does not account for student opinions
  • Costs money either by purchasing a book or online subscription
  • Alumni giving, faculty pay, and school financial performance are criteria in rankings
  • Little clarity regarding the breakdown of scores
  • School statistics (Average SAT score, HS GPA, financial aid package) are provided by the college, though some do not release this data

College Know It All

  • User comments clarify ratings for categories and subcategories
  • Only utilize ratings from students
  • Finances do not play a role in ranking
  • Free
  • All statistics are user-generated, meaning students provide data about their financial aid package, scores, major, and post graduation job

KH: Once College Know It All is established, do you have plans to expand into other related markets?

LM: Certainly. I am passionate about the coupling of social media and user-generated reviews to augment the online lead generation market. I have plans to utilize our current rankings platform to create ‘know-it-all’ portals for other verticals such as consumer product reviews, travel reviews, car reviews and professional service reviews.

First, however, I’d like to expand CKIA to include rankings of online degree programs, graduate schools, and career/technical schools.