Navigating the world of complex university admissions has traditionally been a daunting journey, laden with stress and meticulous groundwork. Crafting a well-rounded list of prospective universities, encompassing both target and safety schools, demands extensive research. Students find themselves immersed in weeks of rigorous preparation for standardized entrance tests, essay crafting, scholarship pursuit, and meticulous management of application deadlines. The ordeal doesn’t end there—interviews add another layer of complexity to an already demanding process.

In the tech-savvy landscape of university admissions, the United Kingdom has witnessed a surge in applications from both British and international students. This influx, however, has led to a noteworthy decline in the acceptance rates of higher-tariff universities, plummeting from 60.5% in 2021 to 55.1% in 2022. Competitive programs, such as medicine and dentistry, also experienced a substantial drop in acceptance rates, sliding from 20.4% in 2021 to 15.6% in 2022. Across the pond in the United States, Ivy League institutions set unprecedented admission rate records, reaching all-time lows of 3% to 4% in 2023.

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In the face of this challenging and hyper-competitive landscape, students, parents, and educational institutions grapple with the pressing question of how to successfully navigate this intricate process and secure coveted admissions to top-tier universities in both the UK and the US.

To find out more about the role of technology in this aspect of education, as well as to gather a broader view of the education space, we speak to Fangzhou Jiang, Co-founder & Chief Product Officer of Crimson Education. Over the last seven years at Crimson, Fangzhou has been at the forefront of the digital components of the brand.

The Crimson app has helped over 10,000 students streamline their college applications and gain admission to their dream schools. The app provides students with access to databases containing exclusive information on universities, extracurricular activities, and successful applications, offers standardised test practice, measures the competitiveness of students’ applications, and aids in tracking tasks and deadlines set by counsellors.

Could you explain how the app works and what problems it is solving in the education space?

The Crimson Education app is a comprehensive solution addressing two significant challenges in the college counselling space: the competitiveness of college admissions and the complex yet tedious application process. Our app empowers students by providing them with valuable resources and personalized guidance to systematically enhance their candidacy and readiness for their dream universities. It also streamlines the college application process while connecting all stakeholders, including students, parents, and mentors.

For students, the app offers standardized test practice, personalized college readiness assessments, and a comprehensive strategic roadmap to keep track of their academic & extracurricular activities alongside various application deadlines. Additionally, students gain access to an exclusive resource centre consisting of proprietary insights into successful university applications, essay writing, extracurricular activities, summer programs, internships, and more. The app also shares student performance data with our mentors, facilitating better student advising. It further assists mentors with roadmaps to monitor student progress, assign tasks, and track deadlines. Moreover, parents can access real-time information about their children’s university application journey on the app.

Essentially, the Crimson app offers an all-in-one solution, simplifying the path for students, and making it easier for them to secure admission to top universities. 

What are some of the common aspects of education that have been enhanced, changed or supported by technology in today’s education landscape?

With the edtech industry valued at $271B and forecasted to increase to $410B by 2026, technology has brought about significant enhancements in today’s education landscape. Most notably, it has made it easier than ever for students to access information on virtually any topic of interest. Students can now read articles, watch videos, listen to podcasts, and connect with experts regarding topics that pique their curiosity. With numerous free educational resources on the internet, information is now also more accessible to students from low socioeconomic groups. 

Additionally, technology facilitates collaboration between students inside and outside the classroom. Tools such as Google Docs, collaborative slideshows, and video calling enable students to work on assignments together and share ideas and feedback. The Crimson Launchpad is another example that facilitates collaborative work, particularly for students around the world with a similar goal of gaining admission into the top universities  

Personalised learning is another key transformation brought about by technology. Adaptive learning software, for example, tailors the difficulty level of material based on a student’s progress, enabling them to learn at their own pace. Furthermore, by providing a platform that makes the distribution of diagnostics, standardised tests, or even online quizzes quicker and more accessible, in addition to leveraging technology to provide real-time feedback on their learning progress, students are immediately informed about the areas they need to improve on. 

Beyond students, technology also supports educators in enhancing their teaching methods and professional growth. Teachers can access online courses and webinars to acquire new teaching strategies and connect with peers to share ideas and experiences, counsellors can easily administer surveys to keep track of the mental well-being of students, and parents and teachers have a comprehensive view of their children/students’ learning journey through the development of school dashboards. Technology has definitely been shown to improve not only the quality of learning for students but also help parents, educators and other players involved, to better support the student’s learning experience

In your opinion, what else can expect to see in the education space when it comes to technology?

I believe we will see greater use of AI and machine learning, immersive technologies, and the emergence of more flexible, personalized learning models in the future. AI and machine learning are extremely promising as they can personalize learning according to a student’s progress and provide real-time feedback on assignments. In addition, they can help educators save time by automating time-consuming tasks including grading and assessment. 

Although much has been done when it comes to supporting student’s academic growth, I also believe that more can be done to better support students during the daunting and inevitable admissions process to top universities globally. One of the most important goals of many students during their academic journey is to pursue their higher education in the top universities across the world. By being admitted into these top universities, including Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge, students are opened to the world of endless opportunities where they can enjoy learning from the best of the respective industries, gain the most valuable internship experience, or even be part of a team conducting valuable research. 

Hence, by also integrating the capabilities of AI and machine learning into improving and optimising a student’s experience of applying to top universities, students can enjoy more personalised recommendations on how best to achieve their goal of being admitted into the top universities. For instance, the Crimson app leverages more than 100,000 data points from other successful Crimson alumni to make personalised suggestions on which extracurricular activities or competitions are recommended to improve a student’s chance of admission. Other factors included when making personalised suggestions include university and major databases, academic and non-academic competition databases, summer program databases, and other available resources that can ease a student’s application process.  

In your opinion, where do you see AI and education combining? What does the future look like as we see continuous changes?

As mentioned, I believe the adoption of AI in education will continue to expand in the future, offering the potential to enhance student learning outcomes. Tech developers will continue to use AI to create more personalised learning experiences for students, catering to their individual needs and learning styles at any time. Additionally, AI tools will continue to offer students immediate and more importantly, more accurate feedback on their work to enable them to identify areas for improvement quickly and effectively.

In terms of college applications, we see generative AI becoming increasingly prevalent with more students using it to write admission essays. However, it is important for students to use AI ethically, maintaining the authenticity of their work to ensure these essays genuinely represent themselves. In spite of the benefits of generative AI, including having an entire personal essay drafted within seconds, there are still plenty of limitations as it is not necessarily accurate and cannot truly capture the unique essence of a student’s learning journey. The tool can hence be used as a stepping stone for students to better prepare themselves, but should not replace the guidance from a qualified admission expert. 

Nonetheless, there is also a growing need for an application that offers a more comprehensive and holistic platform that addresses all or most of the needs of a student during the respective learning conjunctions. That is, a student looking to be admitted into top universities should be provided with a platform that manages university applications effectively, from academics-related matters to understanding the level of competitiveness of desired universities, to providing a roadmap that organises students’ applications. On the other hand, primary school students require a platform that makes learning easier and fun, while allowing parents to have greater access and transparency in understanding the learning challenges faced by their child to better help them. 

What’s next in the tech pipeline for Crimson Education?

Our focus on innovation in the counselling space is driven by a commitment to leveraging cutting-edge technology to better serve our students. Here are the key points of our development pipeline:

First of all, we are dedicated to harnessing the power of artificial intelligence that’s been meticulously trained on proprietary data to generate exceptional ideas for extracurricular activities and other student projects. AI will not only assist students in generating creative ideas but also streamline our services by providing personalized recommendations. Additionally, we’ll use AI to monitor student progress, ensuring that they remain on track to achieve their academic and extracurricular goals.

Moreover, Crimson’s global scale offers us a unique advantage. We are developing a next-generation, gamified university search tool that leverages our global insights and vast database. This tool will empower students and counsellors to identify the best-fit schools more effectively. It will incorporate AI-driven recommendations, allowing students to explore universities that align with their academic, cultural, and personal preferences rather than only relying on public rankings. By making the college search process engaging and data-informed, we aim to revolutionize how students find their ideal higher education institutions.

Furthermore, In our quest to provide students with more information, transparency, and data-driven insights, we are building an unparalleled repository of content and resources. This repository will be a treasure trove of knowledge, covering everything from college admissions strategies to career pathways and scholarship opportunities. Our goal is to empower students with the information and insights they need to make informed decisions about their educational journey. By centralizing this invaluable content, we hope to democratize access to educational resources and ensure that students are well-prepared for their academic and professional futures.

At Crimson, we believe that technology has the power to transform the college counselling process, making it more efficient, personalized, and empowering. We are committed to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the realm of education and college admissions, and our technology development pipeline is a testament to our dedication to student success on a global scale. We look forward to continually innovating and providing our students with the best tools and resources to navigate their educational journeys successfully.