This App Helps High Schoolers Track College Application Progress

CollegeLeaps — created by two former Nashville, Tennessee, high school teachers — is a free mobile app that helps students, parents and guardians, and educators keep track of student preparedness to apply to college.
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  • CollegeLeaps was launched to help high school students keep track of their college prep timeline. Students can share this timeline with their teachers.
  • The app helps junior and senior high school students work through college-related deadlines month by month.
  • The app also helps students in their first two years of high school understand college terms and plan for a stable GPA.
  • Founders Angie Allen and Laura Vignon hope to bring the app to the district level in Tennessee to help schools find measurable outcomes on college applications and progress.

Preparing for college as a high school student can be chaotic with entrance exams, extracurriculars, GPAs, scholarships, and applications confusing students and their parents or guardians.

When do I take the ACT? When do I apply for scholarships? What's the FAFSA? Why does my GPA matter? When do I fill out the Common App?

Two former Nashville, Tennessee, high school teachers — Angie Allen and Laura Vignon — created CollegeLeaps to answer those questions. Their free mobile app timeline tool for students and teachers helps track college preparedness from a student's first year in high school to their senior year.

The app allows students to choose their grade level and look through specialized timelines for each year. The first years focus on education, while their junior and senior years are college deadline-driven.

Students can then share their progress and check off college prep items each month throughout their high school career.

Allen and Vignon told BestColleges they began the project a little before the COVID-19 pandemic, during their days teaching AVID, a college preparedness course, at McGavock High School in Nashville.

"We had been brainstorming ideas for a while. And all of a sudden, it was like, 'Oh, this is something that we could do,'" said Allen, CEO and founder of CollegeLeaps and director of postsecondary initiatives at the Martha O'Bryan Center, an anti-poverty nonprofit organization. "It'd be super helpful, and we see such a neat daily need."

They had already built the systems for teaching college preparedness, so they created the timeline to help ease those systems. They decided to use college applications, testing, scholarship deadlines, and others to guide their month-by-month timelines for juniors and seniors.

"This is like years and years and years of missteps, and like two steps forward, one step back for Angie and I," said Vignon, chief operating officer and founder of CollegeLeaps and dean of instruction at McGavock High School. "So, this is years of pulling together different resources to see when these things are supposed to happen."

After they determined the content, they only needed an app developer. And it couldn't just be on computers; they knew CollegeLeaps had to be a mobile app.

"We were noticing a lot of students forgetting their laptops or not having access to a computer or forgetting their passwords," Allen told BestColleges. "It's a lot easier to keep all your passwords on your phone. If we're going to do this, we need to do it on a mobile device because it's just going to be easier for everybody."

They began with junior and senior years since they knew most about those years and started with just a "baby" Google Sheets prototype.

The content organization took about six months, while the app development took 1-2 months.

"I don't think this would be where it is today if it weren't for the pandemic," said Allen. "It was a real gift for us to have the idea at the time we did and able to at the time, build it, because we were going through that business class right when the world shut down."

Soon after, Vignon and Allen launched CollegeLeaps as a tool for teachers to track their students' progress on preparing for college. Students could share their progress with a teacher, mentor, or anyone else.

After Allen and Vignon published the app with a junior- and senior-year timeline, they decided to include first-year high school students and sophomores, a new territory for the duo.

So they worked backward and went through 5-6 previous years of their junior year class assignments. They asked themselves questions like, "Were students prepared for that mock interview from their junior year?"

No? Why not? They probably needed the resume or soft skills prep, said Vignon.

So, where do you put those skills in the timeline?

The junior and senior timelines are primarily deadline based, but the first-year and sophomore-year timelines are educational, said Vignon and Allen.

They took creative liberty in those timelines since it doesn't matter if a student learns about the ACT in the first or second semester of their sophomore year.

Vignon said that many students tank their GPA during their first year of high school, so educating them about its importance is critical. They really only have until the end of junior year to secure an excellent GPA to apply to college.

"That's why we went back in and did that. So the students aren't getting to junior and senior year and feeling defeated, feeling like they are so far behind they don't know what to do," said Allen.

CollegeLeaps' influence has mainly stayed in Tennessee. Allen and Vignon began using it in their classrooms. Now, they have over 500 users and a couple of schools that use it in their college prep courses.

Vignon said the team's next steps are to create a teacher dashboard to inspire teachers to take on a mentor role through the app's shared tracking feature.

Within the next five years, they hope to see CollegeLeaps used at a district level as a tool for measurable outcomes. They hope schools will use it to measure the student population preparedness and the types of postsecondary schools students attend.

Success is a little hard to measure when some students say nothing while others tell them they wouldn't know what to do without CollegeLeaps. So Allen and Vignon are hoping to receive more feedback on the app, especially from out-of-state users.

"Our goal is to really help," Allen said, "and we want students to feel like they have what they need to be able to be successful no matter what their background, no matter what their income level is, whether their parents went to college or not."

CollegeLeaps is free on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.