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Pasadena Now

The Match Game

The current pandemic isolation is like ripples on a pond. Everything affects everything else. Students can’t attend campuses, and that means that high school seniors won’t be visiting any potential college campuses soon, either. Thus the dilemma that USC business majors JP Velasquez and Christian Yeghnazar decided to take on. “The biggest part of applying to college and when selecting campuses, said Yeghnazar Tuesday, “is really visiting the place and really talking to students there, to kind of get a […]

JP Velaquez (l) and Christian Yeghnazar (r)

The current pandemic isolation is like ripples on a pond. Everything affects everything else. Students can’t attend campuses, and that means that high school seniors won’t be visiting any potential college campuses soon, either.

Thus the dilemma that USC business majors JP Velasquez and Christian Yeghnazar decided to take on.

“The biggest part of applying to college and when selecting campuses, said Yeghnazar Tuesday, “is really visiting the place and really talking to students there, to kind of get a feel for it. And that was taken away for all high schoolers right now. So then we kind of tried to figure out what the solution is to this problem. How can we solve this?”

As he explained further, College Connect is a free service which aims to match high school students with college students so that they can have their wide range of questions answered about a college they’re interested in.

“We recognized that many high school juniors and seniors won’t have an opportunity to visit the colleges they were accepted to or potentially even go to orientation – so we wanted to bridge the gap,” said Yeghnazar.

The partnership and Connect program is a likely by-product of Spark SC, a student-run entrepreneurship ecosystem at USC dedicated to building communities, unlocking opportunities, and expanding social impact for current and budding entrepreneurs. Not surprisingly, Yeghnazar, a member of the USC Marshall School of Business 2021 class, is the current president.

For Velasquez, the oldest in a college-bound family, the dilemma hit close to home.

“I saw that one of the groups impacted by this are high school seniors, because my sister is a senior in high school,” he explained, saying, “She was a little more stressed out with the process because now for the first time seniors can’t go visit colleges before making a huge decision like that.

“We try to help solve that problem by connecting them with college students that can answer their questions, and beyond that,” Velasquez continued. “We know that every year there’s a lot of kids in our communities who either can’t afford to visit colleges, or don’t have someone at home who can guide them through the process, and be a resource for them as well.”

The one-on-one mentor idea can be far more valuable than a campus visit, offered Velasquez, since the mentor student, having attended the school, can share an insight the official school visit might lack.

“I think the main difference is the authenticity,” he said. “Every year, every school offers different programs and an orientation. But the one thing in those programs, it’s that it’s somewhat of a sales pitch. Obviously the school wants to try and show its best side, which is great, (but it may not be) the most accurate representation of what the school is.”

With College Connect, he said, potential college students will “talk to a real student who doesn’t have any skin in the game.”

“It’s an honest account of what their experience has been, Velasquez added, “and we think that is a super valuable resource.”

According to Yeghnazar, the program was announced only last week through local social media, and garnered attention from students right away, with over 400 current sign ups and more than 70 current campuses involved.

As Velasquez also noted, the pair of entrepreneurs were initially creating the student-mentor matchups themselves, but soon that task became overwhelming. They recruited another fellow USC student to develop the algorithms necessary to quickly and accurately match students with students.

Added Yeghnazar, “We’ve been getting some really great feedback from the high schoolers, saying, ‘Thank you so much for this program. I didn’t know what I was going to do with that in orientation, but this really helps me get ready to go to college.’ I think those kinds of emails really motivate and encourage us to keep going, because it is clearly a need that needs to get filled.”

More information on the free student-mentor matching service is available at https://joincollegeconnect.com/