Applicants, college students connect through Chalky start-up

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College applicants and current students can now connect with one another through Chalky, a new start-up that coordinates mentorships for guidance and support before, during and after college.

Courtesy of Zackariah Cole Photography.
Courtesy of Zackariah Cole Photography.

Founded by Isaac Madan ‘15 and Charlie Yang ‘15 this past June, Chalky has since expanded to hundreds of colleges, including selective schools—Harvard, Yale, Princeton, among others—that are in high demand by the thousands of users on the site.

“We want to improve the experience at Stanford and then replicate that at other schools, like growing in one ecosystem and then expanding to others,” Madan said.

Chalky’s purpose is to offer one-on-one mentorship by matching users to one another after they fill out an online profile. One of its main uses is to guide students through the college application process.

“The best personal advice is what you get from passionate people who have been in our shoes,” Madan said. This feeds into Chalky’s ultimate goal—to “unlock life’s collective experiences,” according to Madan.

Over the summer, Chalky ambassadors Negin Behzadian ‘17 and Dennis Xu ‘17, also organized live talks about applications and scholarships as another method of reaching out to college applicants, especially high school students, who make up the site’s biggest audience.

Courtesy of Zackariah Cole Photography.
Courtesy of Zackariah Cole Photography.

“It is one of the biggest moments in life, when people are making crucial, independent decisions,” Madan said about the application process. “We recognized that there was an inefficiency in the process—we spend so much time and money to try to get into college and, after learning all these great things in the process, the information goes unused.”

Beyond answering basic questions about college, Chalky serves as a platform for people to build relationships with those who have been in their shoes. For instance, Xu’s recent experience with college applications motivated him to join the Chalky team as a mentor.

“There was this abstract definition of the ‘passion’ everyone was talking about,” Xu said. “My first three years of high school, I spent all my time trying to pursue a definition of passion and what it meant to be passionate.”

Chalky boasts features such as messaging, blogs and an advice page to create more personal relationships between users,

Currently in close contact with his 20 high school mentees, Xu emphasized Chalky’s personal environment, which doesn’t focus as much on numbers and statistics as other forum sites such as College Confidential.

“Experiences are so much more important than the objective score,” Xu said. “It’s not about the data, it’s about the person.”

Similarly, Behzadian feels that the mentorship established through Chalky is much more personal.

“Even though I’m just helping them on the college app context, there’s so much more in front of them and in front of me, to share experiences and learn how far we’ve come,” she said. “We’re not just using each other to get help but building a healthy relationship.”

Madan said that with funding from Innovation Works, founded by former Google China President Kai-Fu Lee, and The Brandery, the co-founders are currently working to enhance user experience by improving the algorithm that matches mentees with mentors.

After December deadlines for college applications, Madan hopes to shift the company’s focus and expand its reach to connect college alumni and students from all over the world.

“As people grow, Chalky grows with them,” Madan said. “We began with the college application process, but we also want to scale to other transitions in life.”

Contact Irene Hsu at ihsu5595 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Irene Hsu is a music contributing writer, and a former Deputy Desk Editor of News at The Stanford Daily. She is a sophomore from San Jose, CA and is double-majoring in English and Symbolic Systems. Contact Irene at ihsu5595 'at' stanford.edu