By Erin Forsythe, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 20, 2012
High school students may have a new battleground from which to compete for undergraduate admission — the Internet.
Azarias Reda, a University Ph.D recipient in computer science and engineering, and his team launched Meritful, a new website similar to Linked-In that caters to high school students looking to showcase their advancements to prospective universities.
The idea for Meritful, launched on Monday, grew from Reda’s recognition that students need an outlet to showcase their achievements beyond essays and test scores.
Currently, the majority of the site’s members attend Ann Arbor-area high schools and include many University hopefuls. According to Reda, Meritful has been well-received by parents and high school teachers, which he said is critical to the growth of the website.
Reda said he had been working to increase high school outreach to connect engineering hopefuls to the University, and became inspired after spending the summer interning for LinkedIn in Mountain View, Calif..
“(Students) could showcase what they’ve been doing (and) make it really easy for admission counselors to look at what they’ve (been) up to and do their own job more effectively,” Reda said.
According to Reda, he and his fellow developers made the decision to use Ann Arbor and the University as their starting point because of their own established networks and the University’s reputation, adding that they would eventually like to expand.
The Meritful platform allows students to provide a summary of themselves, discuss their goals and describe their educational history.
Reda added that the most essential piece of the site is the “showcase,” where users can display a specific activity or achievement. Students can upload photos and videos, along with links and descriptions of their projects.
Users can also receive feedback on their activities and, like LinkedIn, connect and network with peers and mentors.
Reda explained that the showcase function can be beneficial to students with existing connections at the University because a student can receive direct feedback from University faculty on their Meritful page.
“It builds more credibility for the things that you said you did,” Reda said.
According to Reda, admissions officials can easily gather information on Meritful members by filtering by high school, individual interests or accomplishments. Separate pages for high schools have also been created to promote top students, showcases and shared items on the site.
Reda said he believes admission officials increasingly utilize sites like Twitter and Facebook to aid in their application decisions, and noted that Meritful could help counteract the negative aspects of a student’s online profile.
“You should control the conversation,” Reda said. “You shouldn’t let other things kill your image. You should have your own say on how you’re portrayed.”
According to a 2011 study by Kaplan Test Prep, 25 percent of participating schools said they visited the social networking sites of applicants, and about 20 percent of respondents have Googled applicants.
However, the University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions said they are not among schools that use Facebook in the applicant review process. Reda said he is hopeful that Meritful will eventually become a tool required by University admissions officials.
Erica Sanders, the managing director of recruitment and operations for undergraduate admissions, said she agrees that Meritful is an exciting new resource, but the University’s current application already allows students to showcase accomplishments.
“We believe the admissions application, which includes opportunities to share information about your involvement in clubs and organizations, extracurricular and community service, is still the best way to share this information with the University,” Sanders said. “However, we will certainly consider any information submitted with the application."
LSA junior Mara Meyers said she supports the concept of a networking resource for high school students.
“I went to a small school so it wasn’t an issue, but it’s really helpful to be able to have some kind of a network outside of just personal interactions,” Meyers said.
LSA freshman Patrick Nowlin said he agreed that Meritful would be interesting to try in high school, but was skeptical of the response the site would receive.
“A lot of overachievers would be into that but I think most high schoolers don’t really have a concept of the importance of (networking).”