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Satish Mirle remembers when he first got the idea for MaiaLearning. It was 2010, and his daughter was applying to colleges from a private high school in Silicon Valley.
There was of course lots of information available to her, and she did well, ending up at the University of California, Berkeley.
But Mirle was in the tech industry and had plenty of resources to help his daughter. “What does it mean for kids who don’t have the same level of access?” he asked.
When he went to his daughter’s school to discuss his questions with a counselor, he was asked, “Are you building another Naviance?”
Mirle is now the CEO of MaiaLearning, formed eight years ago, a competitor to Naviance, a college planning tool for students and schools.
Kevin McCloskey is the CEO of Scoir, another company that competes with Naviance. He said that when he started doing research, he was struck by how “structurally inefficient” the process of students finding colleges to apply for was. “There was no network for students.”
Both companies boast of being transparent on pricing (which is rare among tech companies in higher education), and of being closer to the counselors who work in high schools than is Naviance, which was bought by PowerSchool in 2021, and which did not respond to requests for an interview.
Naviance is acknowledged as the leader in market share of this product, with more than twice the clients of either of the newer companies. But MaiaLearning is adding 150 to 200 high schools a year to its total of 1,000 high schools (outside of California, where another MaiaLearning product serves high schools in the state). And Scoir (pronounced like “score”) said it has 12 percent of the market and it’s growing by 40 to 50 percent a year. Both companies are primarily getting past clients of Naviance. So the market for these products appears to be growing.
What Do They Do?
The companies are probably best known for a product all three provide: students at a given high school who provide their grade point average and test scores, and a list of colleges they would like to attend, can find out how many students with similar grades and test scores got in previously. Students can get an analysis from their high school or region or state. The product is so popular that there are jokes about it as a “dream killer” for students (and parents). But given that admit rates vary widely by high school, the product is quite popular. Naviance has been operating the service for decades, but the other two companies say they provide the lists as well. (The product may be slightly less effective with more students going test optional with their applications.)
The companies also provide a range of other services. MaiaLearning offers assessments of career options, software to manage students’ interactions with colleges (recommendations and visits), and through the Common Application helps students submit applications. Scoir promotes itself as a system that, its website says, lets students “better understand their fit with colleges so they are more likely to stay enrolled and earn their degree. We also want students to be able to show their unique skills, achievements and abilities so they are not pigeonholed by their GPAs and SATs/ACTs. We want parents/guardians to better understand the real cost of attending certain colleges so they are not scared off by published tuition rates that very few people actually pay.”
On pricing, Scoir costs $2.52 per student in high school. MaiaLearning charges $2,000 for every 200 students. Both companies offer discounts to high schools where many students are low income and charge more for some services. MaiaLearning noted that it serves several schools in South Africa for free.
MaiaLearning stresses that it customizes its services for whatever a high school would want.
Rebecca Chabrow, director of college counseling and academic advising at Kohelet Yeshiva, in Pennsylvania, said, “As a Modern Orthodox Jewish school, search engines are generally useless for my students, as most of the results show schools that not only have no resources for Orthodox students, such as kosher dining and an Orthodox rabbi on campus. However, with the ability to create custom lists on the search engine, my students can now search within a list of schools that have the necessary resources [for] Orthodox Jewish students.”
In terms of cost, she said she found MaiaLearning to be less expensive than Naviance (except she had to pay an installation fee), and both were more expensive than Scoir. “But I felt the added features in MaiaLearning were worth the extra money, especially since it was still less than we were paying for Naviance,” she said.
Her view of the pricing was shared by several counselors in high schools who asked not to be identified.
The two companies’ CEOs offer similar philosophies for their businesses, including that they don’t directly criticize each other.
Mirle of MaiaLearning said a major point of pride is running CaliforniaColleges.edu, the state of California’s college planning service. The service is in offered in every California high school and middle school.
MaiaLearning has grown 95 percent through word of mouth: “We don’t go to schools and say, ‘try our product.’ They come to us.” It mixes services it provides itself or through partners like the Common App.
“If you’ve got 400 students and you need to process documents processed in 30 minutes, we can help you,” Mirle said.
But he added, “I feel very uncomfortable marketing to customers that have a competitor's product.”
Mirle added that his company is always looking at trends in admissions and is currently looking at direct admissions and thinking about how the company’s model could help.
McCloskey of Scoir said the main idea behind his company was to create a “network” that would help students, high schools and colleges. “We weren’t trying to recreate Naviance,” he said.
“It all starts with the student and three questions,” McCloskey said. “Will I get in? Will I fit in? Can I afford it?”
It’s never “a yes-or-no answer,” but about providing as much information as possible, he said. For many students, he said, colleges look the same because they can’t visit, he added.
“We’re trying to create something for them,” he said.