Alex Stepien literally worked his way to the top at Cappex—an all-purpose college and scholarship search website that includes College Greenlight among many tools and services provided to college-bound high school students. After graduating from the University of Michigan, Stepien joined the company in 2008 as its first Account Executive and now oversees the entire operation as CEO responsible for maintaining relationships with 600 colleges and universities across seven countries as well as for launching both the Cappex and Greenlight Scholars applications.
It’s a big job, and Stepien is an extraordinarily open and engaging executive with lots of plans for enlarging the Cappex role in college admissions, not the least of which involves targeting a nationwide audience including low-income and under-resourced students and families served by College Greenlight.
Last fall, Cappex entered the college application market with a product designed to capitalize on relationships with students developed through its basic college-and scholarship-matching services.
“In our surveys and conversations with students, we’ve heard that essay supplements and application fees represent huge barriers for application completion,” explained Stepien. “Our application simplifies the process by doing away with fees, getting rid of repetitive and burdensome supplements and reducing duplication of effort in the process.”
And while the Common Application and the Coalition squared-off in a more visible competition for market share, Cappex quietly worked behind the scenes to develop products they thought would streamline the process of applying to college and appeal to students looking for less complicated and more straightforward tools for conveying credentials to a variety of institutions.
So far, the strategy appears to be working. Colleges already accepting the Cappex Application include the College of Wooster, Whittier College, University of Tampa, Northland College, Ohio Wesleyan University, Cornell College, and Queens University of Charlotte. And among the colleges accepting the Greenlight Scholars Application are Swarthmore College, the University of Dayton, and the University of Rochester. And for the record, both the Cappex Application and College Greenlight will be adding to their rosters of participating colleges and universities for 2017-18.
To help families and college counselors—both school-based and independent—become familiar with the Cappex and Greenlight Scholars applications, Stepien agreed last week to answer a series of questions.
Question: Now that you have basically completed one application cycle, how would you characterize your first year of operations?
Our pilot year was a successful start for the Cappex Application. We saw a strong response from our college and university partners with 70 institutions participating. Students voiced excitement about the ability to apply directly to the schools they were connecting with on Cappex.com.
Question: Would you have done anything differently? What were some of your biggest problems? Biggest successes?
Given that it was our pilot year, we wanted to make sure we got it right and had a strong foundation before we actively promoted the application, only really building awareness to the student community after our soft launch on September 1. We heard from a lot of our students, “I wish I knew about this earlier!” So this year, we’re launching on August 1, and have begun building awareness of the Cappex Application much earlier.
Question: Do you anticipate any major changes in the platform for the coming year?
We’re making significant improvements and technology investments this year, focused on streamlining the student experience and making the path to adoption easier for our college partners. Among the many enhancements, students will be able to import their existing Cappex profile information into the application; benefit from Cappex’s responsive user-interface that works great on smartphones, tablets and desktops; and utilize our Application Manager feature to organize applications in process and stay on top of deadlines.
For our college partners, we’ve focused on getting them the data they need in the easiest fashion possible, to allow for a streamlined import for reading. Improvements in the onboarding experience for colleges are contributing to an increase in adoption. This represents a huge win for students as it increases the number of colleges they can apply to via the Cappex Application.
Question: How are you reaching out to students and counselors to make them aware of the Cappex Application for the 2017-2018 cycle?
We have a robust marketing plan scheduled for the months leading up to and through the Cappex Application launch, highlighted by unique content and training materials, email notifications, webinars, and exhibiting at NACAC. We hope to see you there!
Question: Do you expect to welcome new members for 2017-18?
Absolutely! We’ll be sharing a full list of participating colleges in the near future, but we anticipate the roster will be well over 100 institutions this year.
Question: Why would a student choose to use the Cappex Application over the Common App, the Coalition App, or the Universal College Application? Who is your target audience?
Every year, over 1 million high school seniors create accounts on Cappex to use the platform’s tools through the college discovery and search process. They trust our best-in-class tools to help them research and choose the right college, so it’s only natural to be able to immediately act upon that information within the platform they trust and apply directly to those schools with the Cappex Application.
The simplicity and ease of use of the Cappex Application make it the right solution for every Cappex user, as well as every student across the country who will apply to participating colleges.
Question: Could you explain the relationship between the Cappex Application and College Greenlight?
The Greenlight Scholars Application uses the Cappex Application Platform, but is designed to showcase the strengths and talents of first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students. The Greenlight Scholars Application includes questions that help identify non-cognitive predictors of academic success, such as the student’s drive, commitment and interests.
College Greenlight works with a network of 1,200 CBOs to help them help their students. College Greenlight students can engage with colleges that are actively trying to recruit low-income, first generation and minority students, in addition to all of the college opportunities that are available on Cappex.com.
Question: How have you structured The Cappex platform to make it user-friendly for counselors? Why would a counselor recommend the Cappex Application to students?
The Cappex Application is easy for students and easy for counselors. We’ve built our counselor facing tools with ease-of-use in mind, so there’s no need to create, remember or manage unnecessary credentials just to submit letters of recommendation or transcripts. Cappex offers a free counselor portal and resources accessible to any school counselor across the country. More than 30,000 counselors across the country are already recommending Cappex to their students as the place to research and discover colleges.
This is the first part of a two-part series on the Cappex and Greenlight Scholar applications.