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Making College Possible in St. Louis Park

The Admission Possible program is helping low-income seniors realize their dreams.

It’s spring, and for most seniors at , that’s the season where they and their parents wait on pins and needles to see whether their hard work on college applications will pay off. For many, those applications weren’t a big problem—with a little coaxing from parents and possibly a guidance counselor, these students sifted through US News and World Report rankings, found their top five schools, applied, and started to wait.

“But what if you’re taking six classes, you’ve got a part-time job, and you’ve got your home responsibilities?” asked Claire Hipkens, a coach at the high school who works for the college readiness program Admission Possible. “Where are you going to find the time to apply for scholarships, or for financial aid?”

For senior Raquel Uribe-Kauhaihao, the process was “stressful, definitely stressful.”

“$36,000’s a big number, and I look at that and I get scared” she exclaimed, referring to yearly tuition at Concordia College-Moorhead, where she wants to go to college. “You have to focus on what you have to pay. For me (with financial aid and scholarships), it’s only $7,000. That’s pretty good.”

Senior Abdi Umar added that he had to navigate a “very confusing” web of scholarships, federal and institutional forms, and other paperwork, made more difficult by a host of terms and words he’d never been exposed to when learning English as a second language.

That’s where Hipkens and her fellow Admission Possible coach D.J. Erickson come in. Each year, Hipkens and Erickson goad, inspire, tutor, and guide 37 seniors and 37 juniors, respectively, through the college application process. Junior year is focused almost entirely on preparing students for the ACT. Senior year is likewise laser-focused on college applications and the financial aid process, with a bit of tutoring on the transition to college thrown in for good measure. The results are undeniably impressive. 

With evident relief—and a bit of pride—Erickson noted that his students were able to raise their scores 15 percent from the first practice ACT they took last fall.

Even if they pass this crucial test, however, students still have to find a way to pay college tuition. While Hipkens said some of her students were still waiting to hear back from every college and scholarship they applied to, she noted that she has never had a student fail to attend college for financial reasons.

Hipkens said her students have at their fingertips a huge database of financial aid sources, as well as an ever-growing body of knowledge based on the experiences of previous years’ students. This, along with Hipkens’ explanations of how the financial aid and scholarship processes work, is key.

Umar and Uribe-Kauhaihao said they rely on their families for inspiration to make their way through this maze and their vision for a professional future—Umar said his mother and father set high expectations, while Uribe-Kauhaihao said she wants to escape stressful family responsibilities.

“I just have to stick my head outside of my room," she said. "Do I want to be at home watching kids, driving people (in my family) around, or hearing my mom yell 'Raquel! Do this, Do that!' for the rest of my life? No."

At the same time, she said, these responsibilities also give her a powerful incentive to stay close to home, which is tough to marry with her first-choice school, Concordia-Moorhead. She said she has considered going to a community college for a few years before transferring, so she can help her mother.

“My mother's been a single mom for most of my life," she said. "I don't want to leave her hanging (to care for one epileptic younger sister and two much younger sisters)."

Uribe-Kauhaihao said some of her peers have looked down on her concerns.

“People say I’m letting my family dictate my future, but I’m not," she said. "It may take me a little longer to get there, but I’m absolutely going to finish school and get my degree.”

If it’s not already evident, these two are both student leaders, absolutely driven to achieve their goals. They seem to have the grit and determination to push themselves through, with a bit of navigational help from Admission Possible. But what about kids who aren’t as driven as this pair, kids who weren’t necessarily driven to apply for the program?

Both Uribe-Kauhaihao and Umar said their Admission Possible experience has rubbed off on friends and classmates not in the program.

Umar, a leader in the high school's Muslim Student Association, said he and other leaders organized tutoring sessions for freshmen who were slacking off.

"In MSA, we have lots of freshmen students who don't realize that what you do freshman year will effect your chances of getting into college," he said.

Uribe-Kauhaihao said that some of her friends not in Admission Possible hadn't really imagined that they could pay for college, or get in for that matter, until she started talking about what she was learning in the program.

"One of my friends said 'you can really do that?'" she said. "I try to help them a little bit."

D.J. Erickson May 06, 2011 at 07:54 PM
An update from the coach -- we just got real-deal ACT scores back from the April exam. Our group average is up a whopping 18% to over 20 points! I'm so excited for these students and proud of their hard work. D.J. Erickson Junior Coach Admission Possible St. Louis Park H.S.
Michael Rose May 06, 2011 at 08:07 PM
That's great news, D.J!

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