For first-generation low-income students, applying to college can be a difficult experience. These students typically lack parenting guidance and may have limited resources to guide them through applications. Michelle Nguyen and William Chen are two students who had this experience only a few years ago.
“Applying to college seemed like a distant and intangible idea because no one in my family had ever done so,” says Nguyen. “I went to my guidance counselor and received little help and didn’t have the privilege of asking my parents for additional resources to make me feel confident with my applications.” Chen added, “The application process was extremely stressful and I constantly wondered if the schools I was applying to were the right choice for me.”
The sentiments expressed by Nguyen and Chen are common among first-generation and under-represented minorities who apply to college. Additionally, many of these students cannot visit college campuses firsthand and connect with current students to get a feel for the campus culture.
The GradGab startup was created to fill this gap. Bryan DelloRusso, Co-Founder of GradGab, said, “Our mission is to promote equity for students regardless of their socio-economic status, academic background or race.” DelloRusso worked for years for the largest admissions consulting firms and realized that many of his clients came from privileged backgrounds. “I felt like we were contributing to the problem by giving privileged people an advantage to get into the best schools.”
To solve this problem, DelloRusso, along with his classmate at Duke Carter University Prince and serial entrepreneur Zech Francis, founded GradGab. GradGab is a networking platform that improves college exploration and planning by connecting potential students with current student mentors. Students participate in informative video chats, live virtual tours, and interview preparation, all of which provide prospective students with an affordable way to find and accept at colleges.
The founders of GradGab have created a diverse team of advisors, mentors and employees from all walks of life: from low-income first-generation students to under-represented minorities and international students.
GradGab has joined forces with other organizations that help disadvantaged students. They have teamed up with Girls Inc. and ScholarMatch to sponsor free chats. “We are focused on partnering with key organizations to make GradGab accessible to all students, everywhere,” says Zech Francis. They also integrated the Princeton Review website to connect students through school home pages. And, they have launched a scholarship partnership with Niche.com. “Former education players understand the need for an innovative peer-to-peer platform like GradGab,” says Francis.
Nguyen says, “The co-founders’ goal of making GradGab accessible to marginalized students is amazing and is transforming the process of university research.” Prince added, “The very heart of our mission is to democratize the admissions process and make it fair for every student, regardless of their background.
GradGab was launched in October 2020 with over 4,000 mentors at over 500 colleges. Their app is available on iOS and Android.