June 07, 2013 by Olivia Deng
Christopher Gray, nicknamed the “Million Dollar Scholar” after securing $1.3 million in scholarships is a co-founder of Scholly, an Android and iPhone application designed to streamline the scholarship application process. His fellow Scholly co-founders are Nick Pirollo, a student at Drexel University, and Bryson Alef, a student at Amherst College. Scholly hit the market for Android and iPhone users May 11.
Scholly boasts an adaptive matching engine designed to help students simplify the scholarship search process.
“It’s an app that creates a fast and simple way for students to find scholarships for college. And it doesn’t just focus on high school students. It’s for those who are currently in college, too, so it includes undergraduate and graduate students as well,” Gray, a pre-junior studying entrepreneurship, said. “So it makes the process as simple as possible. You don’t sign up, and the search is extremely simple. You’re matched with scholarships you’re eligible for in a minute.”
To increase convenience, users can save the scholarships they qualify for and email the complied list of saved scholarships to themselves. Examples of scholarship-winning essays are also included on the app.
Scholly, which contains an extensive database that is updated on a monthly basis, has eight filters to narrow the scholarship search for students.
“It took me six months to actually create the database,” Gray said. “I went through thousands of scholarships and asked myself, ‘What are the eight things scholarships look at?’”
The filters that Gray and the other co-founders devised are state, race, grade point average, gender, need or merit based, grade, major, and miscellaneous. The miscellaneous category includes specific personal characteristics such as religion, sexual orientation and disabilities.
Though the specific filters set Scholly apart from other scholarship apps, Gray said that what makes Scholly different is that users do not need to create an account.
“Other scholarship apps, it takes like 30 minutes to sign up. You have to give your personal information, your address, what you like … I mean, it just takes a long time to sign up,” Gray said.
Another notable difference between Scholly and other scholarship apps, according to Gray, is the curated search process.
Regarding other scholarship apps, Gray said, “Their search is not curated. So basically they’ll just give you a list of 400 scholarships. You probably only qualify for…five of them because they data mine from the Web; they just scrape data from the Web and put anything that looks like a scholarship. A lot of them are not even scholarships — take a look at FastWeb or Scholarship.com. Some are internships or things like that because they don’t curate.”
Because Gray relied on what he considers noncurated scholarship search engines, he experienced an arduous scholarship application process. Gray, who is the recipient of the Coca-Cola and Gates Millennium scholarships, started his scholarship search process the summer of his junior year in high school.
Intent on finding a solution to the grueling scholarship application process, Gray developed his idea for Scholly last summer while working with the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Education.
“I was working with students, and it takes so long to just find scholarships to apply for. I’ve worked with students back home, in Philadelphia, California, and other states on the East Coast. It just takes so long; it’s frustrating. Everyone asks me this one question: ‘Where do I find these scholarships? I don’t like FastWeb. I don’t like Scholarships.com. How did you find all your scholarships?’ I won all those scholarships, so they come to me for that,” Gray said.
Being a Drexel student also contributed to Gray’s development of Scholly. He acknowledged the utility of his entrepreneurship classes in developing Scholly.
“How can you turn something like Scholly, which has the image of a nonprofit, into a sustainable business? My education at Drexel definitely helped with that,” Gray said.
Ranked the eighth most expensive school in the nation by Campus Grotto in 2012, an education at Drexel comes at a steep price.
“Just being around the students here inspired me to create this app. Drexel is a very expensive school, so hanging out and talking about the loans they’re taking out, … students are like, ‘Do that,’” Gray said. “Drexel also has a very strong entrepreneurial community. So with that, it really helps being around like-minded people.”
So far, Scholly has received positive feedback from the public, with favorable reviews on the iPhone App Store. “Students love it; parents are loving it,” Gray said.
The most consistent feedback Gray has received on Scholly is about its efficiency.
“Speed has been the biggest attribute. It condenses a long search process into a minute,” Gray said.
Gray said he believes that the ethos of Scholly’s founders lends to its appeal. “A lot of the way the app attracts users is because it’s made by someone who won so many scholarships. It kind of adds that credibility. It’s not an app created by some random person who just data mines.”
To further market Scholly to attract more users, Gray said he plans to work with high school counselors and college advisers to promote the app, in addition to embarking on a media campaign.
“Right now we have a line of press releases coming up. We’re doing a big marketing campaign using mainstream media. This issue is very relevant.” Having already made an appearance on Fox News May 28, Gray said he aspires to appear on “Good Morning America” and CNN.
Scholly has enjoyed success as a new app, and Gray is confident that Scholly can sustain its success in the future.
“We’ve been endorsed by the Coca-Cola Scholarship. We have the biggest scholarship on our side. They have the option of giving support to a random person who data mines or three students who have won a collective amount of scholarships.”
Gray said he believes that an important component to Scholly’s future longevity is its support from prestigious scholarship foundations.
“We have endorsements from Coca-Cola and Gates Foundation, the biggest scholarship brands. They are going to support their scholars,” Gray said.
Additionally, to give Scholly a competitive edge, Gray said he plans to make improvements to the app. Ambitious future plans for Scholly include enabling users to apply for scholarships through the app, implementing even more specific filters, and including what Gray describes as exclusive scholarships.
“We are working on exclusive scholarships via Scholly. There are people we are working with, and they want to put their scholarships on the app.”
The prospect of competition does not faze Gray. In fact, he said he sees collaboration prospects in the future.
“We expect people to work with us rather than compete. I see more partnership than competition,” he said.