By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
Jillian Jolly, a current Yale University student and 2019 Ramsay High School graduate, learned about the College Choice Foundation (CCF) during her junior year from one of her teachers.
“I just saw free ACT prep and that they were going to take students to visit some of the schools on their list, and I was, like, ‘OK, I’ve got to apply,’” remembered now-18-year-old Jolly. “[The CCF] basically guided me through the whole college admissions process. Prior to [that], I had no idea how I was going to fill out the [Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) form] or which schools I really wanted to apply to … going into my senior year.”
Make a List
Jolly started working with the CCF the summer before her senior year. It helped her make a list of schools she wanted to aim for, split into different groups: target schools and reach schools. Yale was a reach school for Jolly.
The CCF helps students narrow down schools that will help cover everything for them. The organization also helps with resumes and ACT prep and can pay for ACT tests, said CCF President Josephine Lowery.
“[Students] should take the ACT or the SAT as many times as they can,” she said. “A lot of schools will super-score, which takes the best score from any test and averages the scores. Students have to understand that it’s important to take these tests more than once.”
For Jolly the most important part of the college-prep process was writing essays and knowing what to write for different colleges, “especially the more prestigious ones because they’re looking [at your application] … in a more holistic way,” she said.
“[Colleges] are not looking at scores alone,” Jolly said. “They’re looking at you as a person: what you’re involved in, what they feel you can add to their community. I think students should start … fulfilling some kind of purpose during high school. When they get involved with different extracurriculars, they should do something that’s meaningful to them—something they can do for multiple years, something they enjoy, something they can build on.”
She added that schools are looking for students who have plans to do something in the future, so she encourages students to find an organization to work with. First, however, she suggests that they get their ACT scores into a range that’s appropriate for the schools to which they want to apply.
“I think students should be very realistic in choosing schools,” Jolly said. “But if there’s a school they just have to apply to or want to apply to, I recommend that they still apply, even if they don’t feel like they’re qualified enough.”
Lowery also offers a few helpful tips: “Starting in high school, take the hardest classes offered, such as [advanced placement (AP)] classes, that you can handle. Get involved in your community by doing community service, and make sure you’re involved in extracurricular activities, too. During your junior year, start taking the ACT. … [Public libraries] sometimes offer review courses, … or you can buy an [ACT Prep Guide] and work through it. Also, try to visit some colleges.
“The summer before senior year, narrow down your list of schools, figure out what applications they require, keep taking the ACT, attend college fairs, and talk to college admissions representatives that come to your high school. Make sure you apply on time to the schools you’re interested in and for scholarships. And be sure to complete the [Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form].”
The FAFSA form determines a student’s financial aid eligibility, including loans, grants, and work-study opportunities; some colleges also use it to determine scholarship recipients. Each year, the FAFSA process opens on October 1; this year, applications will be accepted through April 1, 2020. Students are encouraged to complete the applications as soon as they can to qualify for the maximum amount of financial aid.
Then, Lowery said, “You wait. You typically hear from schools in early spring and have to decide which one you’re going to attend by May 1.”
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