An exclusive Q&A with Zinch.com’s Mick Hagen

March 15, 2007 at 10:46 pm Leave a comment

Posted by DoreenMick Hagen

A new site, Zinch.com, founded by Princeton student Mick Hagen, is live and, might I say, pretty cool! Here’s an exclusive Q&A with Mick. If you have questions for him, leave a comment. He’s a really nice guy (see photo) and I’m sure he’s up for answering any queries you may have!

Doreen: So, Mick, Zinch.com was launched just this week. How does it feel?

Mick: Doreen, my oh my. It feels so good. No. I take that back. It feels great! After months and months of brainstorming, research, broken pencils, programming, headaches, late nights, sack lunches, and prayers… we’re finally live. Now we just gotta preach the good news of Zinch, and let the students know about it.

Doreen: So, what is Zinch? Tell us about what it does for students, and how it works on the admission officer’s side as well.

Mick: Zinch.com is a tool to level the playing field in college admissions by giving every high school student in America the opportunity to showcase themselves, communicating those talents and accomplishments that make them unique. This information is then sent to the specified college or university the student wishes to approach (students can send info to any accredited institution in the country). Much debate has surrounded the college recruiting process – specifically that too much emphasis is placed on college entrance exam scores. This is not to say that colleges don’t consider larger criteria when students actually apply – they certainly do. But that’s too little too late for many students – they need a solution earlier in the college admissions process. And now they have it. Simply put, students can showcase themselves to colleges, read through in-depth profiles of colleges, and then shout-out to colleges across America.

For admissions officers, it’s an absolute dream tool. We’ve spoken with admissions officers from all sorts of schools, large and small, public and private, and they all say the same thing: If Zinch has students, they’ll definitely use it. They say that the more information they have on a student, the better recruiting they can do. For example, if they know you like chess, they can tell you how great their chess program is. The more info they have on a student the more personalized the recruiting can be. More “matches” will be made in helping students find the right colleges for them.

Doreen: When did the idea come about? How long have you spent putting the site together?

Mick: I originally started working on this project while at Princeton with some fellow classmates. We did an incredible amount of research, a lot of speaking with high school counselors, students, parents, and admissions officers. We’d go into these meetings with a notepad, a pen, and an open mind… then just start listening and taking notes… trying to figure how to alleviate the pains everyone has been feeling in the college admissions process. We drove up to Boston for the Harvard Summer Institute of College Admissions, sneaking into seminars and classes trying to soak in as much as possible, just learning. We attended the NACAC (The National Association for College Admission Counseling) conference in Pittsburgh. Everyone seemed to be screaming the same pains. After a lot of brainstorming and research, the roads lead to Zinch.com. The development and programming started in November of 2006. Beta testing started in January of 2007. We went live this month, March of 2007.

Doreen: How are you going about getting admissions officers to use your site? Are you planning on eventually releasing a list of schools that recruit using your site?

Mick: With admissions officers, the task is fairly easy. Every admission officer in America will get a username and password to start searching through our site — we’re just going to give it to them. Everyone we’ve talked to is excited to start looking at students in a complete format. The admissions officers that aren’t aware of our site yet will be informed. The best ways for us to know which colleges to talk to first are through the students. We need students to tell us who they want to see their profile and we’ll let that college know. Students can do this in the Shout Out section of our website. This section allows students to specify what colleges they want to put themselves in front of, and then we get that done for them. As a student adds a school to his/her list, the admissions office will get an email with the student’s Zinch profile inside. To answer your other question, we definitely plan on releasing a list of schools in the near future. Many schools are very protective about their name, so we might not be able to publish it out on our site, but we’ll be sure to let students know one way or the other.

Zinch isn’t a passive process. Students don’t create a profile and then just hope universities will get on Zinch and search them out. No. Zinch empowers the students, giving them the tools to get in front of any admissions officer in America, to basically knock on the admissions office door and say, “This is me. Love me, hate me, recruit me, or trash me. This is who I am.” And of course, the last tool is a personal web address that links to their Zinch profile. Students can attach this web address to their resume, college app, or whatever.

Doreen: How frequently are there scholarship opportunities?

Mick: Every day. Haha. We currently have eight scholarships totaling $12,500. To apply, you simply need to fill out your Zinch profile. The current scholarships are all due on the May 25. So hurry hurry… You can check it out here. More are in the works to be added within the next month or two.

Doreen: You’re a student at Princeton of course, so how did your college admissions and application experience and getting accepted at Princeton affect the concept for or features of the site?

Mick: The seedlings of the idea came as I experienced the college admissions process for myself, just a couple years back.  I saw a number of inefficiencies and inequalities in the process. The good news is that more and more people are recognizing the need for change in the process. Over 700 colleges have dropped the requirement to submit a standardized test score. Princeton, Harvard, and a number other schools have dropped their early decision programs because, according to President of Harvard, eliminating the early decision program “would produce a fairer process; the existing process has been shown to advantage those who are already advantaged.”

When I was in high school I created a really sweet diggity-dog portfolio that highlighted all my awards, accomplishments, leadership, etc. One of my passions is web design, photography, and digital art (I did all the Zinch.com web design). So I put it together and I sent it to Princeton. It worked. I got the “Yes” letter from Dean Fred. I believe that I was accepted into Princeton because I personalized the admissions process. I let them know who I was. The application itself didn’t give justice to what I could do or who I was. So I created something that did. I basically knocked on Princeton’s door and said, “This is who I am. Take me or leave me.”

The problem is not everyone can put together a sweet portfolio, yet still have amazing talents to share. It’s really about presentation. So this inspired me to create a tool that would allow for students to truly showcase who they are. So now, any student, no matter the resources or abilities could show an online portfolio of who they are. I believe it was my portfolio that allowed the admissions officers to see who I really was, and that made a difference in me getting accepted. Zinch is definitely a product of that experience. Students should be admitted because of a complete understanding of who they are. With Zinch.com this can happen.

Doreen: I think one of the coolest things about the site is the ability for students to upload various media to their profiles. I would have loved to do this while I was going through the admissions process; usually each university has its own regulations for sending in music CDs or writing samples, this definitely simplifies things. Can you elaborate on this feature?

Mick: This is definitely one of our most powerful features on Zinch. It allows for students to truly showcase what exactly their all about, in more than just text and words. Be it a musician uploading his/her piano audio clip or a skateboarder uploading highlights of his/her half-pipe run, the z-folio allows for students to upload anything and everything. Writing. Images. Audio. Video. Anything. It’s part of the Zinch profile so whenever a student “shouts-out” to a university, the admissions officer can also look at these multimedia files. This feature allows students to truly paint the picture of who they are and what their talents, passions and skills are. No limitations. This feature will be unveiled in April. It is still in Beta mode.

Doreen: What I would be worried about though is perhaps having other users or websites take personal information of mine from the site — what are the privacy precautions you’ve taken for the site, and what should students be aware of in terms of protecting their privacy on the site.

Mick: We understand that student information is extremely private and personal. It needs to be crystal clear to everyone that the only people who will see this student information is the admissions officers at the different colleges. Zinch is not a social networking site like Myspace or Facebook. The information will be 100% secure and private. We’re using the best technologies on our back-end servers to keep this data stored and secure. There is no way that a student will be able to see another student’s profile. Student data is kept private, for only the eyes of admissions officers.

Doreen: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in putting together the site?

Mick: Reaching a greater number of students to tell. We’ve just recently launched, and the feedback has been great so far. Any student who hears about it and understands what Zinch does is completely in love with it. However, it’ll take some time to deliver the Zinch message to every high school kid in America. This will be a collective effort from everyone (counselors, teachers, parents, fellow classmates, etc.) to ensure that students hear about Zinch and the opportunities it can bring.

Doreen: So I’m sure of course that you already have a profile on the site — What’s the most interesting or craziest or most important thing you put in your own profile?

Mick: Haha. Yeah, so my profile is here. I made it public just so people can see an example of one (but remember, student profiles will not be made public). I don’t have anything super crazy on my profile just yet. I’d put up a picture of when I was the school Halloween Costume Champion but it just might scare students away. So I’ll pass on that.

Doreen: Anything else you’d like to add?

Mick: Yeah. If you’re a student, create your Zinch profile today. If you’re not a student, tell the nearest student. It’ll be worth your time. I promise.

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Entry filed under: Accepted, Admissions, AdmitSpit, Application, Boston, Chess, College trends, Colleges/Universities, Confidential, Counselor, Dean, Debate, Description, Facebook, Harvard, Harvard Summer Institute of College Admissions, High school, Money, Music, Myspace, NACAC, National Association of College Admission Counseling, Recruiting, Research, Resumes, Scholarships, Tips/Tricks, Website, Zinch.

They’re out to make college admissions a zinch College rankings boosting college presidents’ bonuses

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