Startup Story

Empowerly secures $15M for its college counseling services

Empowerly, an edtech startup that specializes in college counseling and career guidance services, raised $15 million in a recent funding round led by Conductive Ventures, the company announced today. The new capital will go toward growing its services, building out its AI-powered products and developing its first mobile app, which is set to launch in the U.S. by the end of 2024. Empowerly has raised $30 million to date.

“The past year has been challenging for the entire startup ecosystem, and some are saying this has been one of the worst funding environments in the past decade,” co-founder Changxiao Xie says. “This round is a testament to the platform and services we’ve created, from our recruitment of former Ivy League admissions officers to the ways we’ve leveraged data and machine learning to evaluate and improve students’ outcomes from high school to college and beyond. We’re working with more students and families than ever before and seeing fantastic outcomes year over year, and are excited to keep up the momentum.”

The company’s funding comes at a time when admissions season is becoming more competitive than ever, and high school counselors aren’t always equipped to provide expert advice on college-related issues. According to Common App’s Research Brief, there has been a substantial surge in college applications, with 3,353,516 applications sent to the thousands of schools on the Common App for the 2023–24 academic year, up 65% from 2019–20 (2,028,507).

under Hanmei Wu tells TechCrunch. “Some Ivy Leagues, like Yale, reported the lowest acceptance rates they’ve seen in decades. Yet, students still aren’t getting the right support. The counselor-to-student ratio is over 400-to-1, and students are feeling left behind just like I did years ago.”

Founded in 2018, Empowerly aims to take the pressure off students, who may spend anywhere from 60 to 200 hours applying to colleges. After a 30-minute free consultation with a student, Empowerly designs a customized plan that includes services like college counseling, essay editing, financial planning, admissions reviews, internship prep and matching, research mentorship and more. Students meet regularly with counselors and can speak with essay specialists, pre-professional specialist mentors and former admissions officers from top universities. Empowerly has a network of over 100 college counselors who focus on areas such as pre-med, engineering, STEM, business, law and humanities, among others.

Pricing for each service varies but the company shares that its “comprehensive counseling packages” are typically $5,000 and above. One Reddit user reported paying about $1,600 for 16 private essay sessions on Empowerly, while another user claims to have paid $9,000 for its service (yet didn’t say which specific services they paid for). College consulting platform CollegeWise charges anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on what is included in a student’s personalized package.

Empowerly touts its proprietary technology — The Empowerly Score — as the main differentiator between its competitors, which include CollegeWise, Solomon Admission Consulting and AcceptU. The Empowerly Score evaluates a student’s extracurricular activities (sports, community service, and clubs), achievements (awards and leadership roles), academics, and essays, then leverages predictive machine-learning models to generate a single score, highlighting the areas that students should improve to better compete against other applicants.

“It is the only predictive technology that can also quantify subjective material,” Xie notes. “Our tens of thousands of data points and proprietary internal datasets also help students and counselors receive the most up-to-date information on what schools and competitive summer programs care about seeing in applicants (including standardized tests, essay strategy, etc.), what new programs are available this year that may not have been available last year, what opportunities are best fit for particular student profiles, and what scholarships students may qualify for.”

The scoring system helps Empowerly counselors understand which areas students should focus the bulk of their time, whether that be practice taking more standardized tests or signing up for additional extracurriculars.

“Each of the top 200 U.S. universities (with more colleges being added) has a benchmark associated with its admissions difficulty level, and our platform and counselors compare the student’s Empowerly Score to these benchmarks to understand what areas the student is strong in or needs additional work,” Xie added.

The company also offers several experience-focused programs for students to enhance their college applications. For instance, Empowerly connects high school students with virtual internships at startups in the Bay Area. Students can also meet with PhD students who have studied in labs at prestigious schools like Columbia, Brown, and MIT.

Additionally, Empowerly joined the Sequoia marketplace in July 2023, providing its services as an employee benefit to working parents.