Bob Keenum, Central High’s college counselor, has a box in the corner of his office, stuffed with folders intended for soon-to-graduate seniors to use in their college admission and application efforts.
Before this year that box and those folders would likely be swelled with students’ college papers, applications and school catalogs.
Thanks to an electronic, online program called Naviance the school began using this year, they now do little more than take up space and gather dust.
“It’s not real until it’s virtual,” Keenum said. “Everything is done electronically now.”
Naviance, owned by Ohio-based company Hobsons, is a sort of one-stop shop where students can research colleges, practice for the ACT, fill out and send applications, request teacher recommendations and track their progress.
Central is one of only two schools in Montana using the program, said Rachel DiCaro Metscher, director of corporate communications at Hobsons. Worldwide, 4 million students, 300,000 educators and 5,400 school districts in 84 countries have access to the service.
“It’s a place to say, ‘Did you put in your school list? Did you submit your recommendation? Did you do these 500 things in the college process?’” Metscher said.
When combined with The Common Application — an independent, not-for-profit membership association that helps students apply to hundreds of colleges nationwide — Naviance is a powerful tool for students and represents a significant change in college admission counseling, Keenum said.
“This makes me (the students’) gatekeeper,” he said. “It removes the barrier to information for them.”
It’s also an easy way for future collegians to keep track of what they’ve done and what they need to do.
Zach Harris, an 18-year-old senior, said that when he first started applying for schools, the process was overwhelming. When he began using Naviance, that stress lessened.
“I use it mostly for organization and checking up on my status (with colleges),” he said. “It’s a really nerve-wracking process, so it’s been nice having this.”
It also lets students search for prospective colleges based on a range of criteria including geography, size, location, academics, programs offered and student demographics.
It even provides a personality test and then recommends schools and possible majors based on the results.
It also allows parents to track their kids’ progress and lets counselors organize and monitor students’ efforts.
Keenum can quickly pull up a list of the 76 seniors in the 2012 graduating class and see who has applied to schools, where they’ve applied and the status of those applications.
From there he may compile lists and graphs based on variables that give an overall picture of Central students’ application and admission information based on dozens of criteria.
“We decide what’s important to us and we can get that data and follow it,” Keenum said.
The school began using the service this year after Keenum learned of it at a national counselor’s convention in 2010. At that convention, electronic and online management of the college application was a hot topic, especially because teenagers are so comfortable using online services and more and more schools are turning to electronic applications.
“This is simply the modern world for these young people,” Keenum said. “No one has come to my office this year and asked for a catalog. Not one person.”
Harris began using Naviance at least weekly as a junior and said that it helped him enter his senior year with a much better understanding of his college plans.
“It was definitely nice to have just one place to go to do everything,” he said. “It was way more efficient than it would’ve been otherwise.”
Since parents don’t have full access to Naviance — it allows them to track their kids’ progress and send emails to the student and Keenum — it encourages students to do the work on their own.
“The kids need to be responsible for this and they need to do all of the work because, in the end, they’re the ones who have to live with it,” Keenum said.
“It’s a very powerful program that way.”