Unibuddy, a chat platform that connects universities’ student ambassadors with prospective students, on Wednesday announced $20 million in Series B funding and a goal of connecting with 10 million students by 2025.
The platform is designed to distinguish universities in the recruitment process by facilitating low-pressure, authentic conversations for potential students. The coronavirus pandemic hastened adoption of virtual options for introductions to campus, like virtual tours and orientation. These virtual options can allow universities to expand their reach geographically as enrollment continues to decline and changing demographics signal a shrinking pool of students. Unibuddy, meanwhile, claims college applicants in 2020 sent quadruple the previous year’s number of messages.
“I think having that human touch and getting to speak to a real person who’s on the ground, who knows USC, who can talk about campus life and student life and all that stuff is just so much more meaningful and powerful for them,” Jessica Stern, a recruitment director at the University of Southern California’s engineering school, told EdScoop.
Stern said a large portion of her school’s student population is international and that those students often conduct their college search entirely online. The graduate school has 15 student ambassadors answering questions for Unibuddy. Stern said Unibuddy questions have come from 56 countries, with the topics depending on the time of year.
Users submit contact information and a question into the Unibuddy chat platform, which is embedded on a college’s website. Then, a student ambassador answers back. The platform is designed to let students ask questions about clubs or campus life, and connect with people with similar interests or backgrounds without needing to step foot on campus. There are also options for student ambassadors to share more about their personalities and to hold live Q&A sessions.
At U.S. institutions, students ask most about financial aid, the admissions process and careers and employability, the company says.
“We tell ambassadors, you are not a salesperson, you are not an admissions rep, just give them your honest experience being a student here,” Stern said.
The platform works with 136 universities in the United States, where it is looking to “double down on efforts,” according to its press release. Since launching in 2017, Unibuddy has raised $32 million. The company is also looking to triple its engineering team.
Other solutions for connecting with prospective students during the pandemic have included virtual tours and interactive maps. Company leaders previously told EdScoop that these kinds of virtual offerings need to focus on personalization and authenticity, with virtual campus tours looping in real students to write or present content. Universities are also exploring AI-powered chatbots to connect with students.