Entrepreneurial Spotlight: Stephen Friedfeld | Teachers College Columbia University

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Entrepreneurial Spotlight: Stephen Friedfeld

Four years ago, while he was working as a college admissions consultant with high school juniors and seniors, Stephen Friedfeld realized his clients had one thing in common: the means to afford his services.

By Suzanne Guillette

Four years ago, while he was working as a college admissions consultant with high school juniors and seniors, Stephen Friedfeld realized his clients had one thing in common: the means to afford his services.

“Their parents had often gone to the Ivies,” Friedfeld explains. “So I started thinking about lower and middle income students.” 

Last summer, Friedfeld, a part-time Master’s student in TC’s Higher and Post-Secondary Education program, and Marc Zawel, author of the bestselling admissions guide Untangling the Ivy League, launched EqualApp, an online college admissions counseling program. EqualApp furnishes users with suggestions for what courses to take in high school, extracurricular and summer activities, advice on choosing a compelling topic for a personal admissions essay, and more, all in the service of creating the strongest possible candidacy.
Friedfeld knows this complex terrain well. After completing his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Cornell and his doctorate in environmental engineering at Rice, Friedfeld returned to Cornell as an academic advisor and soon became involved in admissions. From there, he was hired by Princeton as Associate Dean of Graduate Affairs in the School of Engineering. All along, he continued his private consulting work with high school students and their families.

In 2007, Friedfeld reconnected with Zawel, a Cornell alum. While an M.B.A. candidate at the University of North Carolina, Zawel had submitted a precursor of EqualApp as his project for a course called “Launching the Venture.” 

Friedfeld, for his part, was already taking classes at TC, including one called “Research Methods in Education,” in which he explored how guidance counseling affects students’ range of choices—and how access to counseling is a function of students’ race and class. 
After a year of planning and development, EqualApp was launched in Summer 2010, with Friedfeld leaving his position at Princeton to focus solely on the new venture. EqualApp engages the user in lessons about financial aid and interviewing with admissions counselors. Students can plug in their SAT scores and zip code to search for suitable institutions within a 2,000-mile radius of home. Based on that information, EqualApp will rank schools as “safety,” “match,” or “reach,” also providing an institution’s admit rate and student SAT average. Parents can access the same information under their own log-in.

“It makes for a more efficient conversation,” Friedfeld says.
And a more cost-efficient one, too. Where a private consultant might charge as much as $46,000 for five years of pre-collegiate guidance, a monthly subscription to EqualApp costs just $59. In response to enthusiastic requests from parents, last week EqualApp launched a new version of the site, which includes new features, such as 30-minute counseling sessions for high school freshmen and seniors, as well as the opportunity for applicants to be paired with a current college student, to provide added motivation.
Recognizing that even that nominal fee might be prohibitive for some students, Friedfeld and Zawel are reaching out directly to community-based organizations and schools across the country to offer subscriptions at a bulk rate. They report a brisk pick-up thus far, with EqualApp winning high marks from guidance counselors for its design and user-friendly programming.
“I never would have considered myself an entrepreneur before this,” says Friedfeld. “But I was frustrated I couldn’t reach out to all students, and so I thought, ‘If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.’”
Friedfeld adds, “EqualApp is growing rapidly and looking to recruit people with admissions and financial aid experience.” For more information, please contact Friedfeld at stephen@equalapp.com or visit www.equalapp.com.

Published Monday, Feb. 7, 2011


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