How Playlists Help College Hopefuls, Overwhelmed Advisers

Mytonomy, a D.C.-area video startup, aims to connect students with college and career advice from near-peers and other role models

Lucia Melgarejo, a Stanford student from Virginia, posted eight testimonials, including two in Spanish, including one offering first-generation parents advice on the college admissions process.
National Journal
Sophie Quinton
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Sophie Quinton
Oct. 16, 2013, 2 a.m.

Pretty much every teen­ager — and her par­ents — needs help with the col­lege ad­mis­sions pro­cess. Which schools would be a reach, and which would be a safe bet? Should she study be­fore tak­ing the SAT, and if so, how much? What fin­an­cial aid might she be eli­gible for? What kind of es­say top­ic would move her to the top of ad­mis­sions pile?

Stu­dents of­ten an­swer these ques­tions with the help of on­line in­form­a­tion, from The Prin­ceton Re­view’s col­lege re­cruit­er quiz to Col­lege Con­fid­en­tial’s stu­dent mes­sage boards. But teens who are the first in their fam­il­ies to ap­ply to col­lege of­ten don’t even know what ques­tions to ask, says Gerry Oxx, a vet­er­an high school coun­selor at Hec­tor God­inez Fun­da­ment­al High School in Santa Ana, Cal­if. At God­inez, 97 per­cent of stu­dents are Latino, 84 per­cent are low-in­come, and most par­ents have a high school edu­ca­tion or less. Al­though Oxx coaches small groups of stu­dents through the col­lege pro­cess each year, with a case­load of 500, he’s spread thin.

Oxx was thrilled to learn of Mytonomy, a Chevy Chase, Md.-based star­tup that’s build­ing something like You­Tube for the high school-to-col­lege trans­ition. The com­pany — which takes its name from the word “autonomy” — has as­sembled an on­line lib­rary of more than 2,800 ad­vice videos and writ­ten con­tent cre­ated by high school coun­selors, their star pu­pils and oth­er role mod­els. There’s an em­phas­is on un­der­served minor­ity voices, and many videos are in Span­ish.

High-achiev­ing low-in­come stu­dents are un­der­rep­res­en­ted in the na­tion’s most se­lect­ive col­leges. That may be partly be­cause they lack ac­cess to rel­ev­ant col­lege ap­plic­a­tion in­form­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to re­search led by Stan­ford eco­nom­ics pro­fess­er Car­oline Hoxby. Geor­getown’s An­thony Carne­vale, dir­ect­or of its Cen­ter on Edu­ca­tion and the Work­force, found that since 1995 more than 30 per­cent of Afric­an-Amer­ic­an and Latino stu­dents with a high school grade point av­er­age high­er than 3.5 head to com­munity col­leges, com­pared to 22 per­cent of white stu­dents with the same grades. In 2011, 55 per­cent of God­inez gradu­ates went on to two-year schools, and 20 per­cent went on to four-year schools.

Oxx has found that first-gen­er­a­tion col­lege stu­dents are of­ten well served by smal­ler, lib­er­al arts schools, which en­cour­age stu­dents to ex­plore a vari­ety of sub­jects. His stu­dents might not know any­one who has at­ten­ded such a school, but through Mytonomy, they can watch God­inez alum Ro­dolfo Santana ex­plain why he chose to ma­jor in elec­tric­al en­gin­eer­ing live from his Uni­on Col­lege dorm room in Schenectady, N.Y. “Cur­rently, we’re do­ing cir­cuits,” Santana says in one video, hold­ing up a chip he’s us­ing in his pro­gram­ming class. In an­oth­er video, he de­scribes what it’s like to go col­lege on the East Coast.

Vinay Bhar­gava, a former Google em­ploy­ee, co-foun­ded Mytonomy in 2011 along with his child­hood friend Sean Burke, a coun­selor at Thomas Jef­fer­son High School for Sci­ence and Tech­no­logy, a mag­net school in north­ern Vir­gin­ia. Burke’s sub­urb­an stu­dents faced a dif­fer­ent in­form­a­tion gap: They were ter­ri­fied that their lives would be over if they didn’t get in­to their dream school, and they needed more in­form­a­tion about STEM col­lege ma­jors.

Over time, Mytonomy users have con­trib­uted videos like Santana ad­dress­ing all sorts of ques­tions, from how to pre­pare for a job in­ter­view to how to deal with par­ent­al pres­sure. Videos ad­dress­ing the same ques­tion can get re­pet­it­ive, but that doesn’t both­er Bhar­gava. “We want to have as many dif­fer­ent voices an­swer­ing the same ques­tion,” he says. “The thing about col­lege ac­cess is that it’s the same set of ques­tions every year. It’s new people and new cir­cum­stances, but the pro­cess is the same.”

The con­tent can be ex­per­i­enced in two ways. Any­one can re­gister to watch Mytonomy’s videos on the site or on the re­cently launched iPhone app (the An­droid ver­sion is in pro­cess). By re­gis­ter­ing, view­ers have the op­por­tun­ity to con­trib­ute their own videos and fol­low top­ics that in­terest them, as you would fol­low a per­son on Twit­ter. Be­fore they’re pos­ted, videos are vet­ted by Mytonomy’s staff.

Schools can pur­chase Mytonomy PLUS, which al­lows coun­selors to cre­ate playl­ists for stu­dents to watch and track who has com­pleted them. The star­tup has entered pi­lot re­la­tion­ships with Oxx’s school, Burke’s school and Ar­ling­ton County Pub­lic Schools, and cus­tom­er re­la­tion­ships with KIPP DC, a pub­lic charter school; The Lab School of Wash­ing­ton, a private school for stu­dents with learn­ing dis­ab­il­it­ies; and Yong­san In­ter­na­tion­al School of Seoul, a private school in South Korea. Even­tu­ally, Mytonomy will make money by selling its premi­um product to high schools, which pay about $2 to $3 per stu­dent per year. For now, Mytonomy re­lies on in­vest­ments from groups like ven­ture phil­an­thropy firms.

Mytonomy’s 2- to 5-minute videos are am­a­teur af­fairs, shot by smart­phone or com­puter cam­cord­er. Their qual­ity var­ies. Some speak­ers speak clearly and gaze straight in­to the cam­era, oth­ers mumble and fid­get. Some video­graph­ers have ad­ded ex­tra ele­ments, like pop-up text. One video, in which a Yale stu­dent talks about din­ing hall food, seems to have been shot in a sup­ply closet — in de­fi­ance of all 13 of Yale Col­lege’s ab­surdly pho­to­gen­ic din­ing halls.

The most com­pel­ling videos have a con­fes­sion­al qual­ity. “Be­cause my pro­nun­ci­ation is I guess, pretty good, people don’t’ really un­der­stand that I’m com­pletely from a dif­fer­ent coun­try. A lot of people think I was born here,” Haruka Na­k­agawa, a Ja­pan­ese stu­dent at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity, says when asked to de­scribe a chal­lenge she’s faced. Na­k­agawa goes on to de­scribe how awk­ward it is when she has to ask Amer­ic­an friends to ex­plain a word to her, and her fear of pub­lic speak­ing.

Strictly in­form­a­tion­al videos can be a snooze — which is a shame, be­cause they con­vey im­port­ant pre­par­a­tion in­form­a­tion. “That’s where the adults come in,” Oxx says. Us­ing Mytonomy PLUS, he can dir­ect stu­dents in his col­lege prep ses­sions to the videos rel­ev­ant to that week’s dis­cus­sion, or point in­di­vidu­als to videos that re­flect their col­lege as­pir­a­tions.

Not all high school coun­selors Mytonomy ap­proaches are ex­cited about the concept. The na­tion­wide stu­dent-coun­selor ra­tio at pub­lic schools is 470 to 1, col­lege pre­par­a­tion of­ten loses out to aca­dem­ic guid­ance and men­tal health as a pri­or­ity, and many over­burdened coun­selors doubt they have time to learn to use a new tool.

Mytonomy wants high school coun­selors to see the videos as a way to provide stu­dents and fam­il­ies with in­form­a­tion 24 hours a day. But the truth is that the tool is most ef­fect­ive when mod­er­ated by a pro­fes­sion­al like Oxx, who knows that the col­lege ap­plic­a­tion pro­cess isn’t just about meet­ing dead­lines. It’s about help­ing teen­agers make adult de­cisions about their fu­ture.

What We're Following See More »
INCLUDES WAIVER FOR MATTIS
Congress Releases Stopgap Funding Bill
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Congressional negotiators released a stopgap spending bill Tuesday night to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight Friday and to fund federal agencies and programs through April 28." The 70-page continuing resolution includes $170 million to aid Flint, Michigan's water supply, and a waiver that would allow Ret. Gen. James Mattis to assume the role of secretary of Defense.

Source:
INTERSTATE COMPACT GAINING TRACTION
Democrats Explore Electoral College Changes
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"A number of Capitol Hill Democrats have revived proposals to reform or abolish the Electoral College," chief among Michigan's John Conyers, who "held a panel on Capitol Hill Tuesday to discuss options for eliminating the Electoral College and replacing it with a system where a national popular vote elects the president. ... The plan with the most support to reform the election college at the panel was the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a proposal first developed in 2001 that would give the national popular vote winner the majority of electoral college votes through an agreement between the states."

Source:
EFFORT LIKELY TO DIE IN COMMITTEE
Jordan Can’t Force a Floor Vote on Impeaching Koskinen
15 hours ago
THE LATEST
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan attempted to force a floor vote on impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, but "the House voted overwhelmingly to refer it to the Judiciary Committee. ... The committee will not be required to take up the resolution." Earlier, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "made a motion to table the resolution, which the House voted against by a 180-235 margin, mostly along party lines."
Source:
AFTER THE VOTE FOR SPEAKER
Ryan: No Committee Assignments Until New Year
20 hours ago
THE DETAILS

House Speaker Paul Ryan has decreed that House members "won’t receive their committee assignments until January — after they cast a public vote on the House floor for speaker. "The move has sparked behind-the-scenes grumbling from a handful of Ryan critics, who say the delay allows him and the Speaker-aligned Steering Committee to dole out committee assignments based on political loyalty rather than merit or expertise." The roll call to elect the speaker is set for Jan. 3, the first vote of the new Congress.

Source:
EXPECTED TO FUND THE GOVERNMENT THROUGH SPRING
Funding Bill To Be Released Tuesday
1 days ago
THE LATEST

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Monday that the government funding bill will be released on Tuesday. The bill is the last piece of legislation Congress needs to pass before leaving for the year and is expected to fund the government through the spring. The exact time date the bill would fund the government through is unclear, though it is expected to be in April or May.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login