Watch what happens when college is possible
Meet Najaé: A Student Driven to Make College a Reality
From an early age, Najaé knew she wanted to go to college. Her family is very supportive of her goal, but because she’ll be the first to go to college, they don’t have the experience to help her navigate the complex process.
That’s why Najaé joined College Possible Chicago’s inaugural class in 2015, her junior year at Bowen High School. Today one in five Bowen graduates enroll in college, but through a partnership with College Possible, school leaders are committed to strengthening the college-going culture.
Najaé is a determined college-bound senior. She maintains a 3.0 GPA, takes honors and advanced placement level classes and participates in after school programs. She must balance her academic aspirations with the fear she feels walking home from school every day in a neighborhood struggling to overcome gang violence.
“I am consistently impressed with Najaé’s ability to see every day as a blessing and keep a smile on her face through challenges that many people never have to worry about,” said Alison Gerber, Najaé’s College Possible coach.
With the support of the program, Najaé was able to raise her ACT score from a 20 to a 25. This new score allows her to have a competitive application at very selective colleges around the country.
Recently Najaé has been thinking about a degree in computer science. Her top choices are the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she has participated in a STEM workshop, and Bradley University, where she has just learned she was accepted! She is now in the process of applying for financial aid. Regardless of which school she chooses, College Possible will support her as she earns her degree.
We are thrilled to be partnering with five Chicago high schools to help 400 students like Najaé realize their full academic potential.
“With College Possible, I don’t have anything hindering me from going on to my next step – college.”
Koren has never lost sight of her dream of becoming a doctor, and she knows education is the path to realizing that dream. Koren’s mother instilled in her the drive to go to college, not having had the opportunity herself.
“As the first in my family to go to college, I needed a little more help than what my mom could give me.”
With the help of her College Possible coach, Amanda, Koren raised her ACT score by ten points as a junior. Despite commitments to two jobs in addition to numerous extracurriculars, Koren and Amanda worked together to ensure ACT preparation fit into Koren’s busy schedule last year.
This year, Koren and Amanda continue to pave Koren’s path toward college. Koren has been able to discover colleges that are right for her, and to submit excellent applications.
“I cannot stray from my goal to become a psychologist or psychiatrist. I know education will take me places. With College Possible, I don’t have anything hindering me from going on to my next step – college.”
Koren has been accepted to six colleges, and awarded to visits to colleges across the country who were so impressed by her that they offered to cover the costs of flying her to visit their campuses.
“My College Possible coaches haven’t just helped me increase my ACT score and apply to colleges; they’ve made me feel confident in myself."
Destiny is one of hundreds of college bound College Possible students across the country this year! Due to her hard work and dedication, she has already earned admission to her top three colleges.
However, college didn’t always seem like an option for Destiny. When she was a child, her father was hospitalized to receive treatment for a mental illness, leaving her mother to take care of her and her four younger brothers. While her mother tirelessly worked to support their family, Destiny took on many responsibilities at home. Seeking extra support in the college admissions process, Destiny joined College Possible.
“My College Possible coaches encouraged me to strive for my biggest dreams,” said Destiny. “They haven’t just helped me increase my ACT score and apply to colleges; they’ve made me feel confident in myself. They have inspired me to believe that I can achieve anything I want.”
Destiny continues to work hard to make her dreams of college a reality. With the help of her College Possible coach, Destiny is now applying to more colleges, completing scholarship applications and securing financial aid.
“I want to be a psychiatrist to help people with mental illness and their families. I want to be a role model for my brothers. I want to be an advocate for others, like how College Possible supported me.
“I am proud of all I have accomplished. I’m even more excited about everything I will achieve in the future.”
"If I could describe my experience as a college student in one word—it would be 'amazing!'"
Huy is the first person in his family to go to college. He was unfamiliar with the college application process in high school. There, he joined College Possible and his coach helped him increase his ACT score, apply to college, polish his scholarship essays and complete his FAFSA.
In college, Huy’s College Possible coaches have been based on-campus, through the University of Minnesota’s Collaborate partnership with College Possible Connects. They have helped him make connections on campus, tackle challenging classes and make sure the scholarships and financial aid he worked so hard for in high school are there until he graduates.
This additional support has helped Huy stay on track to graduate and take advantage of the wide array of opportunities the University of Minnesota offers. He’s found a passion for civil engineering and media communications, interned at the Minnesota Department of Transportation and even studied abroad in Norway this summer.
“When I was in high school I didn’t really think about going to college—I didn’t know where to go, how to apply for it.,” says Hue. “One of the best parts about College Possible has been making connections with coaches and other students who have gone through the same things that I have been through. I’m a first-generation college student, so it is really helpful.”
“If I could describe my experience as a college student in one word—it would be ‘amazing!’ The connections that you make, the people…you meet a lot of cool people in college!”
“College is important to me because it gives me a way out of poverty and struggle. Getting a college degree gives me hope that I can do better.”
Overcoming All Odds
Sofia came to the United States when she was in second grade. She hardly spoke any English. Sofia had to work harder than she ever had before to learn English and stay caught up with her classmates. Sofia’s dad went back to Africa to find a job, and while he sends back what he can, the money isn’t worth as much in the United States. Sofia’s mom works multiple jobs to support the family, which means Sofia must spend time caring for her younger siblings.
Sofia has not and will not let the obstacles in her life define her. She devotes herself to her studies and recognizes the importance of her education. .
In high school, Sofia’s hard work to build a better future paid off. With the support of College Possible, she earned admission to 6 colleges, giving her a wide range of choices. Sofia decided to attend University of Nebraska – Lincoln, where she will receive over $26,000 in scholarships.
Sofia highly values the chance to attend and graduate from college. When she arrives on campus, she’s excited to start pre-med and psychology classes, try new things and meet new people in a large, diverse campus community and begin to plan for studying abroad.
Sofia dreams of using her college education to make a difference in her home country, South Sudan, by going back and building a hospital or clinic, and making a lasting impact on the community.
Sofia sees possibility when she looks at her future. Having overcome so many challenges, Sofia is confident she will succeed. When she does, she will change not only her life, but that of her family and her entire community.
Never Giving Up
Kaylee’s life has been full of instability: she has attended ten different schools and has moved from homeless shelter to apartment and back more times than she cares to count. Now she works after school to help pay rent so her family will not become homeless again. Most days, she goes to school, then heads directly to work for eight hours, goes home and does her homework, sleeps for a couple hours, and wakes up to do it all over again.
However, Kaylee has never let these hardships weigh her down. She has been researching college admissions requirements since she was a young girl because she knows a college education is the best way to break the cycle of poverty in her life. She balances challenging classes, College Possible and her school’s cadet program in hopes of building a competitive resume.
Kaylee will no doubt succeed, and she plans to encourage as many others as she can along the way. “Don’t give up,” she advises. “I’ve been through almost every hard thing you could possibly go through, you just can’t give up. No matter what, you have to believe in yourself because there’s always something better out there for you!”
Inspiring a Family
Fatuma’s face lights up when she talks about college.
She knows higher education is the key to achieving her dream of becoming a nurse, yet for Fatuma, college is about so much more than her own career goals; it’s about being an inspiration for her seven younger siblings. “I can see that my mom wants us to go, and she wishes she had the opportunity. So, I feel like I have to do it for all of us.”
She’s also inspired to earn her degree by her coach, Paige. “She went to college. She knows what she’s doing. She wants us to succeed and she makes me believe I can. It’s a good thing to have someone who’s there for you, who will be able to support you and give an extra push.”
First in the Family
“To be the first in my family.” That is the response many College Possible students give when asked why they want to go to college. These students understand that being the first means setting an example, giving hope and setting a new course for their family. However, as the first, they also know the road ahead will be difficult without an experienced advisor helping them along the way.
For Salvador, a college education is his key to realizing the American Dream. However, college hasn’t always been on Salvador’s radar. “There were times when I thought, ‘Should I just go into McDonalds and wait there and hopefully somehow, after 20 years or something, become a manager?’”
The youngest of four, Salvador is now determined to be the first of his siblings to earn a college degree and show his whole family that it is possible. According to Salvador, graduating from college will be an opportunity to show everyone that, “Where you’re from or what your parents do doesn’t define what you’re going to be in life.”
Thanks to support from College Possible, Salvador is confident he can become the first in his family to earn a degree. “If I wasn’t in College Possible, I’d more likely be confused on what to do. Where do I go for ACTs? Where do I fill out the FAFSA? But thanks to College Possible, I’m not really worried about much.”
Salvador is just one of many first-generation students in College Possible Portland working hard to break the cycle of poverty, and we are proud to help him, and every other “first,” continue their dreams of making college success possible.
Recruiting College Possible Philadelphia's First Class
When I was asked to head out to Philadelphia to help recruit our very first class of students there, I jumped at the chance. Though I knew a lot about our plan for Philadelphia – I had even helped research some of the local high schools – I wondered if the students would be receptive. College Possible’s results speak loudly, but would high school sophomores who had never seen or heard of us before be willing to join our intensive program?
The short answer to my question was: yes!
The first few days of student recruitment at George Washington and Upper Darby High Schools were incredible. The staff at both schools went above and beyond to make our team feel welcome and at home. They provided us with the space and time to conduct and prepare for informational sessions and student interviews and were oftentimes our biggest cheerleaders- encouraging students to check out our program.
I was in awe of every sophomore that I interviewed. Despite having just recently learned about College Possible, they all perfectly articulated why they wanted to be in our program and what this opportunity will mean to them.
There was one student at George Washington High School who I spoke with for quite some time. As she opened up to me, we discovered that we had similar family backgrounds and were both the first in our families with a desire to attend college. When I mentioned that I am a former College Possible student, it seemed as though something clicked for her. If was as if everything that she thought she knew about this opportunity was solidified- students like her can go and graduate from college!
Experiences like recruiting College Possible Philadelphia’s first class have made my year as a College Possible AmeriCorps*VISTA member truly wonderful. I cannot wait to watch this new group of students grow, develop, earn admission to and graduate from college as the first class of College Possible Philadelphia!
A Promise for the Future
Henry, a high school senior at Samuel Morse.John Marshall School for the Gifted and Talented, moved to the United States from Nigeria when he was young. Before leaving Nigeria, he promised his grandparents that he would take care of his family in their new country.
“All my life, I’ve always wanted to go to college, not just for me but for my family and my future,” said Henry.
However, as a newcomer to the country, Henry was not familiar with the process of applying to college. In his sophomore year, he heard about College Possible, a free after-school program that would help him.
“At first, I didn’t think I needed College Possible,” said Henry. “But my counselor encouraged me to apply, and ever since I got in, I never regretted it.”
With the help of his College Possible coach, Eric, Henry improved his ACT score three points in his junior year to make himself a stronger applicant for colleges. This year, with Eric’s support, he has already earned admission to five colleges. He credits his success in the college process so far to the help he has received from College Possible.
“It’s one of the best programs as a high school student I’ve been involved in,” he said. “It helps lots of students succeed and achieve their goals.”
Henry’s long-term goal is to become a pediatrician and make enough money to support his family. With the help of College Possible, he is getting the guidance and support needed to achieve these dreams.
“Making it through college, a step that people think is impossible for students with backgrounds like mine, is the most amazing thing.”
He Dropped into His First American Classroom as a Sixth-grade Student Who Didn’t Speak English.
Now, six years later, Sha Ka Paw is preparing to graduate from Benson this spring.
A spot at Grace University waits for him. He spends much of his days and nights thinking about a long-shot scholarship, funded through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that would pay all of his college expenses.
“That’s the big one,” said Andrea Fresen, who mentors a group of Benson High School seniors through an after-school organization called College Possible. “The Gates is the scholarship of scholarships.”
The Gates, you might say, is Sha’s Moby Dick. He works on it daily. He sends messages about it to Fresen at all hours. The application process requires eight essays, the collection of which tells about the applicant’s life.
But he was not used to spilling his life onto a page. He started the Gates application in October. The first draft of his personal statement was a dry, impersonal essay about his school work.
Start again, Fresen said. Tell your story. So he did.
He began: “What is the meaning of living a life when you do not have any hero that can save you from your trouble?”
And then he set out to answer his own question.
He told his version of a story becoming more familiar in Omaha, where the Karen number in the thousands.
In his Gates essays, Sha wrote about the surprise he felt when he arrived in a Thai refugee camp, and was placed into foster care. He had few possessions. He went hungry a lot.
He wrote about arriving in Omaha, living with another aunt for a few years before he and his older brother got their own apartment.
He wrote about things he doesn’t say out loud, like how much he misses his parents and wishes to live with them again.
“I believe the purpose of my life is to use my compassion I have for others,” he wrote. “Hardship experience is what makes us realize the world around us, and character is our best leadership.”
Story excerpt from “Karen refugee leans on faith in Gates Foundation scholarship pursuit,” by Casey Logan, Omaha World-Herald, December, 23, 2012. Read the full story.
Daesy, a graduate of Mount Mary University, was the first person in her family to go to college. She didn’t have a knowledgeable family member who could guide her through all the steps of college admission and then support her once she was attending.
This problem is all too common for Milwaukee’s low-income youth. They’re capable of succeeding in college but lack the resources and knowledge of how to get there. And without means and a guide, the many steps to college graduation can feel like having to climb a mountain without a map or a safety harness.
But for Daesy, the summit was within reach because of College Possible. Through the program that was with her since her junior year in high school, she was able to find knowledgeable guides in her College Possible coaches, and she received her bachelor’s degree last spring.
“My coaches helped me build the confidence to figure out things by myself,” Daesy said. “They were so easy to talk to, and I learned to ask questions and look for answers. When I needed help with homework, I was not afraid to ask the professor for help.”
Daesy has loved her experience with College Possible — so much so that she is going to continue her time with the organization. Before going on to medical school, Daesy will spend a year of her life as an AmeriCorps coach with College Possible.
She is eager to use her personal experience and the knowledge she has gained during the past six years to contribute to the organization that made her own educational journey so successful.
“I really want to give back,” Daesy said. “I want to help other students. I want to help make their dreams come true, like College Possible made my dreams come true.”
Staying Positive and Looking to the Opportunities Ahead
“No matter what you go through, if you really try, you can get through it.”
Mandy has dealt with many trials in her young life, including being moved in and out of foster care and facing abuse and depression. However, despite these hardships, she maintains a positive attitude. Mandy is committed to earning a college degree because she knows it is her pathway to a better a life.
“I’ve had it planned since I could walk. I’m excited for college. But I knew I would need help getting into it and I couldn’t prepare on my own.”
Now Mandy has a College Possible coach who is dedicated to helping her reach her dream of a college degree. With her can-do attitude, she will be a major asset to any college.
“[My coach] really helped me, she gave me great advice about colleges and great opportunities."
“I made a promise to my college coaches and College Possible that I’m not going to give up on this. I’ve worked this hard to get here. I’m not going to quit, no matter what.”
Nothing Standing in Her Way
When talking to Teresa, it’s hard to believe she is only a junior in high school. Her drive and optimism project a level of maturity unmatched by her peers. Teresa wants to go to college to become an immigration lawyer and to be the first female in her family to attend college. She is determined to set an example for her younger siblings and future children by earning a college degree. “When I’m older, I don’t want my kids to have an excuse because I didn’t go college,” she explains.
With her confidence, Teresa will no doubt reach her dream. “I don’t really see any obstacles,” she states. “I’m pretty open-minded. I won’t let money scare me off. I don’t think anything can stop me from going to college.”
“I did not believe I was worthy of going to college before this program."
"When I have kids..."
Quentin is a busy 16-year-old who balances his wrestling career and demanding class schedule with College Possible’s intense after-school curriculum because he’s determined to be the first in his family to graduate from college. During a recent session, Quentin was sorting through a list scholarships when he exclaimed, “When I have kids, I’m gonna make them do this. I’m going to find scholarships for kindergarteners and just do that for every year they are in school!”
Quentin is an excellent example of how College Possible students are committed to breaking the cycle of poverty in their families and creating better futures for generations to come. He understands that the hard work he is putting in now will ensure his children have a better life.