Tarun Aggarwal, CollegeDekho

Published 27/10/2021

Tarun Aggarwal is chief business officer at CollegeDekho. With investment from ETS contributing to a $26.5 million Series B funding round in 2021, Aggarwal spoke to The PIE about CollegeDheko’s place in a changing recruitment landscape in India.

The PIE: What is CollegeDekho?

Tarun Aggarwal: CollegeDheko is India’s largest higher education ecosystem. Domestically, last academic year we did around 20,000 admissions with almost 800 colleges, and we are looking to do around 30,000 admissions this year. I always say that we are one of the best kept secrets of the country.

We also own India’s largest common application form platform. It’s very surprising that India doesn’t have a common application like in the US or UK. Last year our platform processed around 100,000 applications from around 12 million students in the country per year. If you look at that scale, it is just a fraction that we are doing now, but we have a reason to be a big company.

“Our India business is our oldest and most mature business”

So our India business is our oldest and most mature business. We started an education
financing business as well last year, and hoping to processing almost 5,000 student loans this year. Before Covid hit we set up an accommodation platform, which is on course and we are just eagerly waiting to start this again.

The PIE: So where does you study abroad business fit in?

TA: We started in the study abroad business two years back, [and it’s] doing very well. We want to replicate the learnings and the lessons of the ecosystem we have built in the domestic space and use that to make the study abroad space more efficient.

In fact, we launched a study abroad section on our website around a year back and we are already getting phenomenal traffic. This month’s run rate is almost almost a quarter million visits a month – I think for the year we’ll end up with something around two and a half or three million visits on the study abroad platform alone. The domestic side will witness around 200 million visits in the year.

“In the last 20-30 years, there’s hardly any innovation in this space”

We already have almost 80,000 registrations of students already on the study abroad platform and who are talking to us for helping them with their study abroad needs.

The PIE: What are the key things that you have learned from your domestic work that you can embed in the study abroad business?

TA: We believe that in the last 20-30 years, there’s hardly any innovation in this space. The model is the same. There’s an agency who sets up a shop and then has a local catchment of students and talks to them, gives them a menu of services, advises them, guides them and helps them take an admission.

It’s not that they’re doing a bad job, but we believe – and Covid accelerated this – the whole study abroad counselling and admission process space needs to evolve. It needs to become more student centric, a bit easier and be standardised. With so many mom and pop [businesses], everybody has their own way.

“They will have to improve their quality of service, improve their professionalism and transparency over time”

Ultimately, they’re meeting and catching hold of the student and then trying to interact and help them on the commission. They will have to improve their quality of service, improve their professionalism and transparency over time. I think thats what students will start demanding over time.

Universities are already asking that when they’re talking to partners like us. They are saying, ‘We want more professionalism. We want more transparency. We want students to be more informed when they choose’. We give a lot of empowerment to the student providing information and tools for the student to learn about colleges and options.

We are a digital first company. If you go into the background of the founders of the company, we all come from tech. With ETS investing in the company, we believe that’s a big win for us, a big pat on our back and validation on what we are doing by somebody who’s so experienced in the higher education space.

The PIE: How does your business model work, are you mainly working on commissions from institutions?

TA: We also have services for students as well, such as test preparation, profile building, essays or admission guidance. Our endeavour is to always place the student in the best possible college because we are taking money from the student.

The PIE: What can you say to institutions that are increasingly looking at return on investment and focusing on converting applications?

TA: Ultimately it’s a funnel, with admission at the end, and marketing presence at the start. In the middle is engagement, webinars, events for universities. It depends at what point of the funnel the university you want to engage students and we can have a conversation accordingly. Of course the admissions conversation is always there. So they can build a presence, enjoy the coverage and subsequently go into a more specific into the funnel and see where engagement is.

The PIE: There seems to be a lot of providers who talk about empowering students, but I think for educators and the universities, it’s confusing as to what the best option for them is.

TA: I understand that there are a lot of people and young companies saying the same things. What is happening is that for the last couple of years, people are trying new things, including us. And universities are also thinking of trying new things. And Covid has challenged all of us to relook at the way we do things.

“A lot people are trying to do things, but that itself is a validation of the fact that innovation is required in this space

My personal view is that in a couple of years, some clear directions and clear models will evolve. This is a traditional business, it will take some amount of flux or transition for new ways to come out and become more prevalent. I agree there is a lot of action happening. A lot people are trying to do things, but that itself is a validation of the fact that innovation is required in this space.

We are trying to bring our best practises into this space. And I think this resonates many universities, because they are also looking for partners who want a corporate profession. All of us hear stories of students being ill advised or routed incorrectly now by some of small shops, so I think that’s a very big plus for an entity like us.

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