The process of applying for college in America is long, complex and very competitive.
Universities look for students who excel academically, and are passionate about extracurricular activities, like sports, music and community service.
In the search for the right match, admission staff read mountains of letters of recommendation, essays and personal statements. But a new tool has emerged: an app called ZeeMee.
ZeeMee is a Facebook-My Space mashup that gives students a platform to present themselves to colleges. They can post photos, videos, write about their goals and aspirations, and showcase their skills in music and sports. But this social media platform has a focused audience: college admissions offices.
Madeline Stahl, a high school senior from Virginia, applied for college “early decision,” which locks in acceptance early, usually in November. She got a call back from her dream school, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, popularly known as Virginia Tech.
“I was lucky enough to get a phone call from one of the admission officers telling me they really loved the ZeeMee aspect of my application,” Stahl said.
She became aware of the app when she saw a link to ZeeMee on her application for Virginia Tech.
“I clicked on it and saw that it was this really cool forum where I could upload pictures and videos of activities I am interested in,” she explained. “One of the things that makes me, me, and that I really wanted to highlight was my exchange program that I did over the summer” in Spain.
ZeeMee was started by a small group of young entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Juan Jaysingh is the founder and CEO.
“Our passion was even if we could help one student tell their story in a very 21st-century manner, we were doing our job,” Jaysingh said. “So we started with that passion, that mission, and now we have students in over 150 countries using our platform to tell their story.”
The app and ZeeMee website are used by more than 200 colleges in the U.S., and are expanding into Europe. For American colleges, the appeal for universities is finding the right fit among thousands of hopeful applicants.
Rebekah La Plante, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Virginia Tech, said partnering with ZeeMee helped the school to learn about students “in much more real, real time type of way.”
The school gets to see their stories, pictures, adventures, passions and projects, La Plante says.
For students, the app displays their strengths and their unique personalities.
“I am a math-and-science person, so writing essays didn’t really allow me to express myself,” said Emma Carter, a senior at Fairfax High School in Virginia. “ZeeMee was a good way to showcase myself.”
Sydney Suarez is a cheerleader at Fairfax High School, and she wanted to show off her skills.
“In my cheerleading section I have a video of me falling on my head in a flip because it’s just awesome,” she says. “ZeeMee allows you to put that stuff out there, shows your personality rather than just simply the clubs you do, sports you do, it shows why you do it, why you love it.”
ZeeMee is also useful for international students who want to study in America but who can’t come to the U.S. for an admissions’ interview.
“This is a chance for students to share their story with us and tell us more about themselves in a way they didn’t have access before,” La Plante says.
American students’ advice to their peers abroad?
“If you have really cool history or culture that you could show off, colleges love to see things like that,” Stahl says. “They like to see that you are interested in cooking with your family your traditional foods, or interested in travel or your language or any other cultural aspect of yourself.”
Wherever the students live, whatever they do, ZeeMee is a chance to display their creativity.
Jaysingh says today’s students are “born creative, born digital. … We are starting to see a lot of different ways of students using it.”
Suarez says the app not only helped with college, but with her own self esteem.
“I would say I learned about myself that I am a lot more special than I thought I was and that’s what ZeeMee stands for 100 percent. Your story is important and you matter.”
ZeeMee founders say the stories of underserved students are also important to them.
“Sometimes they don’t believe they have a story, don’t believe they have self-worth,” Jaysingh says. “But talking about their hardship on ZeeMee — that is a story, a unique story.”
ZeeMee is teaming up with different organizations that work with underserved students, such as Reach Higher, an initiative started by former first lady Michelle Obama.