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Site offers opinions, reviews on top colleges

Ellyn Michalak | Thursday, October 16, 2008

New electronic college guidebook Unigo.com offers more than just statistics on a particular university – it offers students uncensored opinions through an interactive and multi-dimensional Web site.

Unigo.com is a free online guide to 267 of North America’s top colleges for prospective students. Current students create the reviews so that prospective students are able to get an unbiased opinion of campus life.

The Web site includes original articles from students and recent grads on every aspect of a particular college, an “Intelligent Calendar” to guide students through the search and application process and “Unigo Match” to help students find the colleges that are right for them

“The college resource market is typified by costly print guide books which generally have only a few pages of information, no photos, no videos, no interactivity and little insight from the real experts – the students who attend the schools,” said Jordan Goldman, founder and CEO of the New York-based start-up in a 2008 press release.

Goldman graduated from Wesleyan in 2004 with the idea to start an online student-produced college guidebook. After he e-mailed over 500 people in the Wesleyan database with jobs in finance, Goldman finally received a reply from Frank Sica, a former president of Soros Private Funds Management. The two met, and Sica now serves as Unigo.com’s leading investor.

Goldman’s company has grown exponentially over the past year – he has a Park Avenue office and 25 employees to work under him. During the past year, 18 full-time editors, 300 on-campus interns and more than 15,000 students collaborated to create Unigo.com. Last year, Unigo began to collect information through student interns on each campus. Each Unigo managing editor was in charge of finding student liaisons on about 10 college campuses. One managing editor, Dan Mesure, sent an e-mail to Notre Dame’s English department last spring looking for interns. Junior Lindsay Sena applied and now serves as the Unigo intern for Notre Dame.

“The main reason that I decided to work for Unigo is that I love Notre Dame,” Sena said. “For better or worse, I think high school students deserve to learn what Notre Dame is really about and why we are so incredible, but they should also learn that we aren’t perfect.”

Since February 2007, Sena has collected student reviews from Notre Dame students and taken photos for Web site. Unigo even provided 100 of its interns with flip video cameras to include video footage of campuses nationwide on the site. One video Sena created was an “unofficial” campus tour. A Notre Dame official tour guide, junior Kim Fitzgibbon, showed notable spots on Our Lady’s campus as a real tour guide would. Sena gave the real dirt on each campus hot spot.

Within the last year, the Web site has received over 30,000 bits of content from its student interns, including reviews, writing samples, photos and videos.

“I think our goal is to get the content and make the content,” Unigo editor Nikki Martinez said. “We are not going to be ranking a school according to other company’s views. [Unigo] is centered on the experience and what students have to say. We don’t censor or edit student surveys.”

Martinez also encouraged students to get their personal opinions onto the website.

“We love all kinds of perspectives and we’re aiming to provide a very comprehensive look at Notre Dame,” Martinez said. “So if you think your perspective is not being heard, this is definitely the platform to do it on.”