When Mohamed Jama started high school at Hopkins’ , he knew next to nothing about college. He didn’t know the deadlines. He didn’t know which schools he should choose. He didn’t know how to apply for scholarships. The situation was even more difficult because Jama’s parents never attended college.
He can only imagine how things would have turned out if that had continued.
“I would struggle a lot,” he said. “By my senior year, I would have gray hair.”
But Jama doesn’t have gray hair—and he has a college acceptance letter to North Dakota State University. He is one of 22 seniors in the College Possible program at Ubah Medical Academy. Thanks to the help of the St. Paul-based nonprofit, each of those students has been accepted to a four-year college.
College Possible was founded in 2000 to help make college admission easier for low-income students. The free program pairs select groups of students with AmeriCorps “coaches” who advise a cohort of students through their junior and senior years—helping them with everything from hitting key deadlines to ACT prep.
“Basically, they grab our hands and literally go through the process with us,” Jama said.
The path begins while college is still a distant possibility. Jama learned about College Possible when he was a freshman. He and other students applied for the program in their sophomore year—a process that involved an essay, an interview and teacher recommendations.
The students must come from low-income families and have at least a 2.0 GPA. But just as importantly, organizers are looking for mid-level students who want to go to college but need some extra help and advice.
Overall, College Possible results in a 21 percent increase in ACTs, said Liz Wilson, who coached Jama’s group. This year’s Ubah seniors had an average baseline ACT score of about 15 when they started in the program as juniors, she said. The scores that they wound up submitting to colleges averaged in the 18 to 19 range—an increase that can mean the difference between acceptance and denial or a two-year school and a four-year school.
The students invested a substantial amount of time to get to that pint. Starting in their junior year, they’ve been meeting for two hours twice a week. By the time they graduate, the students will have spent a total of 320 hours in College Possible sessions, according to the organization.
Wilson—a Bethel University grad who studied English as a second language and has a K-12 teaching license—brightened the students’ day by passing out candy as they came in for Thursday’s session. But there was no doubt the students were there to work.
Since joining the program, the students have:
- Worked through Kaplan’s ACT prep program,
- Taken a total of four practice ACTs,
- Applied to at least five colleges each,
- Filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and
- Applied for several scholarships, with the goal of five each.
Wilson also follows the students’ grades, visits them at lunch, texts and calls them and meets with parents at parent-teacher conferences. Jama said all the personal contact takes the pressure off and allows him to focus on academics.
The help doesn’t end with high school either. College Possible assists students in connecting with campus resources and overcoming obstacles.
The program has been such a part of Jama’s success that his parents are already pushing him to urge his sister, a freshman, to sign up. He’s certainly glad he enrolled. Thanks to the program, he’s planning to study pre-law and become a lawyer someday.
“This is the greatest program the school could offer,” Jama said. “You’ve got to look at your future. You can’t just look at the present.”