LinkedIn University Pages

The social side of college planning

September 12, 2013: 5:00 AM ET

LinkedIn launches University pages today, and college testing service ACT has created a social network. The guidance counselor is moving online.

By Kate Freeman

130910103954-teen-on-computer-614xaFORTUNE -- High school senior Savannah Stehlin says she's "on every social networking site imaginable," and many of her peers would say the same. So it makes sense why ACT, the non-profit behind the popular college entrance exam with the same name, is launching ACT Profile, a new social networking site that prepares high school students for college.

ACT Profile will attract students in the digital-loving "Generation Z" to find majors, universities, and careers on a website that merges social networking with years of college and career planning data. It is just one of several websites that are making high school guidance counselors' jobs a bit easier and bringing the college guidance process to the social networking realm of the web.

Stehlin says sites that blend social media with college planning will be useful for young people -- "I usually find people on Facebook who attend the college I want to go to and message them," she explains.

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Like Facebook (FB), ACT Profile has a wall and the option to "friend" other users. A student can share her ACT test scores, college admission updates, and other college-and-career-related information. It's also completely free to create an account. ACT Profile moved into open beta on Sept. 9, and the site is open to anyone 13 years old or older.

"Since many students are already online, we designed ACT Profile to connect with today's established social networks like Facebook and Twitter," says John Corrigan, VP of consumer experience at ACT. "We want to help students engage in conversation to explore their options -- like what it takes to major in a certain subject or become qualified in a certain career -- in a familiar and social context. Exactly how much someone decides to share with others will be up to the individual."

Stehlin says she sees this niche social network as an opportunity for college-bound high school students to help each other. Sharing test scores and planning next steps with other students can provide support.

Students are stronger "when they have a whole network of people behind them, encouraging and supporting them on their next standardized test endeavor."

There are three quizzes on the site; each take about five-10 minutes to complete. One is an interest test, the other an abilities test, and lastly a values test. Corrigan says what sets ACT Profile apart from other aptitude tests is its years of data and research used to make the quizzes.

Once the three online career tests are taken, students can share their assessments with school counselors and eventually connect with counselors virtually.

On Sept. 12, LinkedIn (LNKD) will allow people younger than 18 to join the site when it launches LinkedIn University Pages, a place where high school students can connect with alumni and current students at universities around the world by tapping into the data of 238 million members. Students can get a real understanding of the college majors previous graduates undertook and what type of jobs those graduates have now. In addition to acting as a virtual compass for high school students in the process of planning their educations, students utilizing LinkedIn University Pages will have a head start in online business networking compared to past generations.

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High school counselors still play a role in students' path to college. They've made a big effort to bring more online tools into their counseling sessions.

"There is a difference between old-school guidance and what we offer now," says Ruth Lohmeyer, counseling center team leader at Lincoln Northeast High School in Lincoln, Neb., and a 2013 School Counselor of the Year Finalist. "We're more data-driven. We target those students who need that help."

The school has increased its college-going rate by 15% since 2008. She says the students' success is due in part because of a mandatory college-planning class that uses online college-planning websites. About 70% of her students are first-generation college-bound, so between the class and the online programs available to them they can find the information needed to plan their futures.

Lohmeyer will attend an upcoming ACT training seminar for high school counselors where she suspects she'll learn more about ACT Profile and then can decide whether or not to share it with her students.

"A lot of the things that my generation does to communicate is through Facebook and Twitter," says high school junior Alan Young from Maine. Blending social media and college planning "is more of what we're used to."

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