Promising high school students get free college coaching


Judging from Admission Possible’s success rate, a more accurate name would be ‘Admission Probable’

Farrington Starnes is a senior at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis. He is ecstatic. He has already received notification of his acceptance into three colleges, and he is still waiting to hear from more so that “I can have a wider range of options,” he says proudly.

Justin Nash is a 2006 University of Minnesota graduate. He too is ecstatic. He loves his job, and he also celebrates Farrington’s success. “It’s exciting when they get that acceptance letter, to see all their hard work come to fruition,” Justin says with an air of satisfaction.

What is the common factor behind both young men’s joy? Admission Possible (AP). AP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping promising young people from low-income families prepare for and earn admission to college. The primary goal of AP is to make college admission possible for those who have the potential to attend college but lack the resources to apply.

Students in the AP program are coached by AmeriCorps members hired by AP. (AmeriCorps is a division of the federal Corporation for National and Community Service created by President Bill Clinton in 1993.)

Justin is Farrington’s AmeriCorps coach. Justin majored in Spanish and Portuguese studies, and he became a member of AmeriCorps after college graduation. He works with 32 students individually and as a group. During Justin’s first year, his assignment was to get junior students acquainted with colleges and degrees offered and begin preparation for the SAT and ACT tests.

Now in his second year, Justin’s primary job responsibility focuses on assisting senior students with college applications, financial aid and scholarship applications. He also continues to provide students with strategies to help them do better overall. At this point, all of Justin’s students have applied to five colleges each.

Farrington was drawn to the AP posters and signs all over his school. He talked to one of the AP recruiters in the lunchroom, and at the end of his sophomore year, he signed up with AP. The program is free of charge to students.

AP provides students with four critical services: (1) ACT and SAT test preparation; (2) intensive guidance in preparing college applications; (3) help in obtaining financial aid; and (4) guidance in transition to college. Each AP student receives at least 320 hours of direct support over two years.

As a junior and halfway through his first year in AP, Farrington realized that he knew more about the college application process than many of his friends who were seniors. “They didn’t know what they were doing; they didn’t know what was going on; they were in a confused state of mind,” reflects Farrington.

“With AP, I didn’t have to go through not knowing what to do. I would not have been prepared as I am now. I don’t know who else would be helping me out right now, if it wasn’t for AP,” continues Farrington.

Admission Possible recruits students from low-income backgrounds who have the motivation and potential to succeed in college but are not likely to obtain admission to a four-year college without help. According to Jim McCorkell, CEO and founder of AP, “Low-income kids have a lower rate of college applications. It’s not because they don’t want to, it’s that they don’t know how to, and they are afraid of this complicated system of getting in. And, if nobody in your family has been to college, it seems like a big mystery.”

AP has 12 Leadership Team members, 44 AmeriCorps members, and four VISTAs [Volunteers In Service To America]. There are 1,200 students currently registered in the program with a reported average family income of less than $25,000.

Twenty-one percent of the students are African American, and 16 percent are African immigrants. AP reports that, overall, 98 percent of the students they assisted have been admitted to college.

Once students have graduated from high school, AP continues to support their transition into college. AmeriCorps members help alumni problem-solve and connect with resources at their colleges. They coordinate alumni events to help the students develop and strengthen peer networks, and they create job-shadowing opportunities for AP alumni to meet professionals in the community.

The program is offered specifically at 15 partner public and charter high school sites in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Robbinsdale and St. Louis Park : Arlington, Armstrong, Central, Como Park, Cooper, Harding, Higher Ground Academy, Highland Park, Humboldt, Johnson, North, Patrick Henry, Roosevelt, St. Louis Park and Ubah Medical Academy. Students not attending those schools commute to the after-school program at a partner school.

The application process for those students who have AP at their schools is to get an application from the on-site coaches. For those who are not in attendance at an AP school, they should contact the main AP office to learn more and get an application.

Applicants should have a solid school attendance record and passing scores on the Minnesota Basic Standards tests. A 2.5 grade-point-average is the guideline. However, if there is evidence that a student with a lower GPA will work hard, McCorkell advises that AP will work with them.

AP is now recruiting college graduates for positions as AmeriCorps coaches. AP was named in Princeton Review’s 2008 edition of the Best Entry-Level Jobs in America.

The priority application deadline for AmeriCorps positions is February 29; the final application deadline is March 24.

AP is able “to attract talented recent college grads who are eager and want to make the world a better place. They have the passion and energy; they work really hard; and our students find them plausible messengers,” notes McCorkell.

Justin plans to continue working with AP until he is ready to go to graduate school. “At the end, a lot of them say thank you,” he says with a big smile.

Farrington says of AP, “Coach is always on your tail; to me, it shows that they care — they actually chase you down. I would highly recommend AP. I’m busy, but it kind of feels good to be busy and knowing that you’re doing something that could benefit you.”

The Admission Possible office is located at 450 North Syndicate Street, Suite 200, St. Paul, MN. 55104. Phone: 651-917-3525; fax: 651-917-3522; email:; website:

Jennifer Holder welcomes reader responses to