A Richmond-based startup that provides career and college exploration tools has grown to reach nearly a million students in 20 states.
MajorClarity provides middle schools and high schools with an online platform for students to “test drive” different career paths.
“It all boils down to helping K-12 schools ensure that every student has a successful career outcome,” founder and CEO Joe Belsterling said. “We want to make sure every student is backwards mapping their education to a career outcome.”
Belsterling started MajorClarity a few months after he graduated from the College of William & Mary in 2015 after bouncing between several different career paths and majors himself.
While in college, Belsterling had tried out jobs in government, finance, business development and social work.
“I realized that I had just spent three and a half years and tens of thousands of dollars of student debt to try to figure out what I wanted to do, but I was only able to try out one thing every six months to a year,” he said. “That’s a really high opportunity cost when you’re spending so much money and so much time on those things.”
Belsterling got a job at 4.0 Schools, an educational lab in New Orleans, where he experimented with different career exploration methods and was inspired to start MajorClarity.
He saw that the most common methods of career exploration were not the most effective. Allowing students to hear directly from professionals about what they do on a daily basis “moved the needle” more than taking career assessments and reading about jobs.
Belsterling began building his own career exploration content based on that data. He won a contract bid with the New York City Department of Education to build the platform.
“We launched it with our first paying customer in January 2017 and over the last three and a half years, we’ve grown to serve about 2,000 schools,” he said.
About 200,000 students and 60% of school districts in Virginia use MajorClarity, including Hanover, Chesterfield and Goochland County public schools and Petersburg City Public Schools.
On the online platform, students take a personality assessment, receive “fit scores” for different career paths, then explore the options through videos and simulations.
“They can watch a series of Q&A videos with industry professionals that range from 30 to 90 seconds,” Belsterling said. “Once they finish those videos, they can do a simulation activity, which is a visual and interactive online activity that’s really meant to show them ‘a day in the life.’”
These methods help students retain information longer than reading, he said.
“It’s really important for career exploration to be visual and interactive because students are doing it years before they’re actually making those decisions,” he said.
Students also can use the platform to plan courses and explore colleges that match up with their interests.
As many families consider alternatives to sending their children to four-year colleges, Belsterling said MajorClarity’s broader approach to career exploration sets it apart from competitors.
“Some of our competitors really focus on the one-size-fits-all ‘let’s prepare kids for college,’” Belsterling said. “We’ve been really intentional to highlight being a doctor right next to being a plumber, to highlight military careers as well as being a lawyer.”
This is especially important now as “the pandemic is accelerating schools’ awareness that they need to support all of these post-secondary trajectories,” he said.
MajorClarity has seen additional growth during the pandemic, as schools pivot to virtual learning and look for affordable online resources.
The company’s second quarter revenue growth more than doubled compared to last year, Belsterling said.
As the company has grown from one employee to 20, the biggest challenge Belsterling has faced is learning how to be an executive at such a young age and “trying to go from being a trailblazer to being a leader.”
“I’ve always been naturally a trailblazer and people confuse that with being a leader. Being a trailblazer in my mind is taking a machete, running through the woods and blazing a trail faster than anyone else. But being a leader is making sure the entire group is staying on pace,” he said.
Over the next year, Belsterling hopes to expand MajorClarity by building new content. The new content will help students evaluate their identified interests and understand “the intersection of their interests and their abilities,” he said.