The Birmingham Times
When she earned more than $2 million in college scholarships and a full-ride to Yale University, Jillian Jolly, a Ramsay High School senior, became another in a number of students benefiting from the College Choice Foundation (CCF).
The Alabama-based nonprofit, which is funded by donations, was created to help high-achieving and academically talented students from low-income families apply for college and find their best and most affordable college fit.
Jolly is one of the most recent. Michelle Williams, the foundation’s first student, is now a senior at Washington University in St. Louis.
Williams, who attended Westbrook Christian School in Rainbow City, Ala., said the foundation has been a support system for her.
“Moving so far away from where I’ve grown up, (Ashville, Ala.) it’s often nice to know that when I do go back to Alabama I have this network and I have people who care about me, who are checking on me, who want me to do well and are rooting for my success,” she said.
The foundation requires students to have a 3.5 GPA as well as a combined family income of $65,000 or less. Additionally, the students need to have good character, leadership skills, hours of community service, and strong teacher recommendations. They must also be rising juniors or seniors enrolled in Birmingham City Schools or Homewood City Schools.
The College Choice Foundation is now accepting applications until May 24. Anyone interested can visit their website https://www.collegechoicefoundation.org/
Josephine Lowery, president and co-founder of CCF, knows what it’s like to need support for college.
“I grew up on free and reduced lunch, my mom was an alcoholic and a guidance counselor intervened for me and said ‘why are you not applying to other colleges than your local state school’ and I said, ‘well I can’t afford the application fees much less to go to those schools,’” said Lowery. “She said, ‘well if I can get those application fees waived would you consider applying to some other schools?’ So, I ended up getting full scholarships to Vanderbilt, Emory, Sewanee, and Birmingham Southern.”
Lowery said she remembered that when she was helping her oldest daughter apply for colleges and received help from Dr. Mark Bateman, a retired Samford University professor, who spent most of his career on college choice research. He told Lowery, “I’d like to do this for the kids who can’t afford . . . paying for ACT review courses, taking college trips, having the right clothes to wear.”
“When Dr. Bateman approached me with the idea, it was my opportunity to say, ‘OK I can give back,’” Lowery said.
The foundation pays for the American College Test (ACT), private tutoring, ACT prep courses, admission fees, interview prep, help with resumes and escort students on college visits.
“Sometimes we fly, sometimes we drive, but usually they get to at least drive to… couple of schools and…after they’re admitted they get to fly to one school,” Lowery said.
The Foundation will also pay for laptops, interview outfits and once students are in college help with books, help them fly home, and clothing, if needed.
“There are a lot of expenses when they get to college that are not covered by their scholarships and we want our students to feel like they belong, we don’t want them to feel like they’re the stepchild because most end up going to elite colleges, very wealthy colleges with big endowments,” she said.
Most of the funds are through donations and The Phyllis Foundation, Inc., which supports nonprofit organizations.
There are a total of 11 students in college now at institutions such as Yale University, Boston College, Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and American University in Washington, D.C.
The Foundation helps students find a college that will meet their need, “that is a combination of scholarships, institutional grants, and Pell grants,” said Lowery. “We do not encourage our students to borrow more than $5,500 a year and most of our students are able to go without borrowing any money.”
Williams will soon be a first-generation college graduate and didn’t know what to expect in college, she said. That’s where CCF came in.
“They were super instrumental in just deciding what I wanted out of my college experience, deciding what type of university suited my needs and what I wanted to study and what I wanted to do,” she said.
“That was helpful just because . . . I hadn’t really had anyone I could ask those types of questions so to have those types of people in place, who were knowledgeable, who had those experiences was very helpful,” said Williams, who is majoring in psychological and brain sciences with a minor in Korean language and culture.
Sean Conboy, a Homewood High School graduate, who is now a junior at Boston College, said CCF helped him in areas he didn’t have much knowledge of, for instance the college application process.
“They kind of gave me a path, like this is how you’re supposed to do it…they gave me a lot of guidance….they also alleviated a lot of the financial burdens with college like application fees. . . a lot of people are limited with schools they can apply to and that was a big thing for me,” said Conboy, who has a double major in applied psychology and human development and biology. “I think I was budgeted three schools and they financed like 15 schools that I could apply to.”
He added that staff at the Foundation “made me see myself in a different way, they saw a lot of potential in me…and they valued me enough…to give me these opportunities and I think that’s something really special,” said Conboy.
College Choice Foundation is now accepting applications for the 2019/2020 school year. The deadline to apply is May 24, 2019. Applicants must be a rising junior or senior currently enrolled in a Birmingham or a Homewood public city school. Applicants must meet several qualifications, including having at least a 3.5 GPA. For more information, please visit www.collegechoicefoundation.org.