While the college application and enrollment process can be daunting for any student, it can be especially challenging for military personnel and veterans uncertain of which path to pursue as they ease back into civilian life.
To help servicemen and women efficiently navigate their college search, Milwaukee-based startup Home Front Alliance recently launched an online college matching and connection tool called The Edge CCT.
The free tool is the first of its kind for military representatives seeking post-secondary education, according to Garrett FitzGerald, president and founder of Home Front Alliance.
While college search engines like the popular College Prowler direct students to higher education institutions, student reviews and rankings, "there's really no college connection tool directly for the military," FitzGerald said.
The Edge CCT consists of a database of more than 3,000 two- and four-year nonprofit colleges and universities across the country. Each school has its own profile page with "all the information you'd want to know when considering a school," according to the tool. From admissions information to campus services and undergraduate degree offerings, institution profiles give users a good first impression of school cultures and missions.
To identify schools that match their interests and aspirations, individual users first create a profile on The Edge CCT, similar to how they might create a profile on social media websites like Facebook or LinkedIn. That profile covers everything from their academic history to their personal and professional interests, work experience, community commitments, military accolades and other noteworthy achievements.
Users' profiles also act as first impressions so that schools and other users can gauge how they might be valuable to one another.
The ability to create a completely customized profile to present directly to schools is another unique component of the online portal, FitzGerald said.
Once a user has constructed a comprehensive profile on The Edge CCT, she can interact with other users and begin exploring colleges through a search-filter capability. That capability allows the user to define her search by an extensive list of factors, such as state, college type, tuition rates, student population, degree programs, campus military services, and religious and ethnic affiliations.
After a user sets his preferred search criteria, the online tool populates a list of schools that reflect his desires. Users can then contact schools directly through The Edge CCT, as well as send their profiles to schools they're interested in. Schools can also reach out to users through the online portal as part of their recruitment efforts.
"It's a two-way communication tool for veterans interested in schools and schools interested in veterans and the rest of the people that we help," FitzGerald said.
The online resource caters to family members of servicewomen and men, in addition to active personnel, reserves, guards and veterans.
The tool is "kind of like a thank you" to them, FitzGerald said.
The Mequon native, who graduated from the University of Dayton last May, identified the need for The Edge CCT largely through conversations with veteran friends who relayed their difficulty in the college search and selection process.
FitzGerald always wanted to serve in the military but is not eligible due to a struggle with arthritis.
"This is kind of my way of serving them," he said.
To lift Home Front Alliance off the ground, FitzGerald relied on a cushion of equity investments. To fund operations moving forward, the startup is offering annual subscriptions to colleges and universities that enable them to advertise on The Edge CCT and take more control over their profile pages. While schools can be part of the online resource for free, the subscription options allow them to enhance their presence on the site.
In the coming months, FitzGerald and his startup team of five will focus primarily on registering and assisting as many college-bound users as they can, with promotional help from military-based websites like militaryconnection.com, militaryconnectone.com, and militaryonesource.mil.
"I always wanted to be able to get up in the morning (and) do something to benefit some people, and I think this is a great way of doing that," FitzGerald said.