February 1, 2020
Mychal Wynn (Northeastern ’79)

Should I Register for the Cohort? 

The registration fee for students who are not participating in cohorts through school district or community partners is $499.95 per year. While this is far less than the $10,000+ charged by private college consultants, it still represents a significant investment for many families. However, each year, we receive hundreds of inquiries from high school seniors and their parents asking about scholarships to pay for college. The reason that only 2% of all college students receive full scholarships is that the vast majority of high school students do not fully understand the concept of “College Planning” or how why they must approach the college planning process strategically, thus, the focus of this month’s newsletter, “Strategic Thinking.” 

Black History Month

February is Black History Month. Today, African American students can attend any college or university in the United States. However, the first African Americans in the United States to receive college degrees were awarded degrees by Middlebury (1804), Amherst (1826), Dartmouth (1828), Bowdoin (1826), Oberlin (1833), and Newark College (1836). The first HBCU (Cheyney University of Pennsylvania) was founded in 1837. It was not until 126 years later on June 11, 1963 that two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, stood face to face with Alabama Governor George Wallace, demanding to be allowed to enter class. It required the full weight of the federal government and President Kennedy’s nationalization of the Alabama National Guard to forcibly integrate the University of Alabama.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities were created as a strategy to provide African Americans with opportunities to pursue postsecondary education. While neither of our two full scholarship recipients (Bre’an and Sydney) profiled in this month’s newsletter will be attending HBCUs, attending an HBCU is the best strategy for many of our high school seniors who have been offered generous scholarships to such HBCUs as Xavier University of Louisiana, Hampton, Fisk, Benedict, and Claflin. Several of our high school seniors have been invited to interview for full scholarships offered by the North Carolina A&T Honors College. Our HBCU unit dispels myths about HBCUs not being as academically challenging as non-HBCUs. To the contrary, HBCUs continue to be among the top institutions awarding African Americans PhDs; graduating the majority of African American dentists and doctors; sending more African Americans to medical school; and graduating the majority of African American judges and half of all African American engineers, lawyers, and teachers. Since two of the primary goals of our College Planning Cohort Program are to earn scholarships and reduce student loan debt, we have many students who have, or will graduate debt free from such HBCUs as Xavier, Howard, Hampton, FAMU, Benedict, Tennessee State, Claflin, and Dillard. In large numbers, academically accomplished African American high school seniors continue to choose HBCUs as their first choice colleges (Read: Why Black Students are Enrolling in HBCUs). 

College Planning Requires Strategic Thinking

The January Module: Self-assessment and Setting Goals engaged students in a self-assessment of the strength of their Common Application, based on current grades, course taking, test scores, leadership, activities, and community service. There were many disappointed faces among our Guilford County Schools, Florence County School District 3, and Pinellas County Schools high school juniors who realized that if they were completing the Common Application today, they would be weak applicants for being offered admission to their top choice colleges and unlikely to qualify for enough scholarship money to attend the schools for which they are qualified. However, students who are disheartened by their current weaknesses have time to “Own the Process,” by setting academic goals, pursuing leadership, and engaging in community service. This is especially true for high school juniors who will be finalizing their Common Application or Coalition Application in the fall.

In our January 1 Newsletter, we profiled full scholarship recipients, Bre’an (GA) and Sydney (FL), both of whom approached their college planning strategically. Bre’an joined the Atlanta-area Cohort in September of her senior year of high school. While this was late in the college planning process, Bre’an was academically accomplished (3.8 GPA; ACT 31), but still engaged in an honest self-assessment of her overall competitiveness as a candidate for being offered admission to the ‘right’ colleges. Bre’an spent long hours completing her application to the QuestBridge Program by the September 26, 2020 deadline. To increase her chances of being offered admission, she applied for, and was invited to the all-expenses paid Taste of Carleton Fly-in Program at Carleton College. After being selected as a QuestBridge College Match Finalist, Bre’an took an ‘all in’ strategy by making Carleton College her top QuestBridge Match school and applying Early Decision. The strategy paid off with a full scholarship and her becoming 1 of 524 students offered admission from an applicant pool of over 7,000 students.

Sydney, a senior in the IB Programme at St. Petersburg High School (FL) entered our program as a high school junior. This time last year, she engaged in a realistic self-assessment of her chances of becoming 1 of the 2,137 applicants to be offered admission to the University of Chicago from an applicant pool of over 34,000 students! As a high school junior, Sydney had time to think strategically. She used her résumé to set goals. She identified leadership and community service opportunities. She researched a summer program at the University of Chicago and developed a step-by-step plan to become the most competitive candidate possible and to candidly tell her story through her essays so that The University of Chicago admission officers would know her beyond what was reflected in her Common Application. Sydney’s embrace of her self-assessment was instrumental in developing a strategic plan to showcase her gifts, talents, passions, leadership, and service.

To further increase her chances of being offered admission, Sydney explored opportunities of attending a summer program at the University of Chicago and applying to their Fly-in Program. Sydney’s summer programs research, and attention to creating a high quality application to the UChicago Summer Immersion Program resulted in her receiving a full scholarship (valued at $7,100) to the UChicago Summer Immersion Program during the summer prior to entering into her senior year of high school. Sydney was able to weave her summer program experiences into her ‘Why UChicago’ essay as part of an overall strategy to demonstrate that she was the perfect fit (which she explicitly stated in her essay).

During the summer following my junior year of high school, I attended the Medical Ethics Summer Immersion Program at UChicago. While I immediately experienced a feeling of belonging as I stepped onto the UChicago campus. Stepping on the Campus North Residential Commons I stopped to savor the moment, one enthralled with both excitement and fear. 3 weeks later, I felt that the time had passed as quickly as that first moment, however, I was not leaving the UChicago campus—I was leaving home…

…I believe I am a perfect fit for UChicago. Not only can I see myself sitting in the red chairs outside of the John Crerar Library, but I can feel myself walking in the main quad struggling to find Pick Hall because nature has beautifully consumed the plaque with any identification of the building. While I believe that I have demonstrated leadership in both my school and community, I believe there is so much more for me to learn about leadership, advocacy, and making an impact in my community—albeit my home in St. Petersburg, Florida or across the globe. In this regard, as a historic producer of leaders, I believe UChicago is a place where I can hone my leadership skills as I make an impact on the UChicago community and draw from its many enriching opportunities.

While Sydney’s story is the latest example of a student, with a strong strategic plan, to be offered admission to a top college, she is not the only student in our program to have been blessed with an offer of admission, together with a full scholarship. We have other students, like Sydney, who work hard, go deeply into the activities, and create opportunities for themselves. Review UChicago’s Class Profile to see just how competitive it is to be offered admission into the #6 ranked college in America.


A core tenet of our program is encouraging students to “Own the Process.” Rather than becoming involved in activities to pad résumés, we want to inspire students to pursue academic achievement, leadership, and service with passion. Top academic achievers, leaders who are making a difference in their clubs and activities, and engaging in meaningful community service will make an impact on students’ local communities and expand their college and scholarship opportunities. Cohort students are now owning their college experience by becoming campus leaders, serving their communities, and pursuing summa, magna, and cum laude honors.

College Students 

  • Alana Fulmore (FCSD3 Cohort) made the Dean’s List at Lander University
  • Avery Johnson (TCC Cohort) made the Dean’s List at Georgia State University
  • Brenna Kaplan (Guilford County Schools Cohort) earned straight A’s at Amherst College
  • Camryn Brown (FCSD3 Cohort) made the Dean’s List at Clemson University
  • Corey Wilson, Dawanya Burgess, Hali Shaw, LaTajah Alford, and Zaria Cameron (FCSD3 Cohort) made the Dean’s List in the Claflin University Honors College
  • Frances Singletary (FCSD3 Cohort) made the Dean’s List at Francis Marion University
  • Jordan Bolds (Pinellas County Schools Cohort) made the Dean’s List at the University of Central Florida
  • Kristen Starks (Guilford County Schools Cohort) made the Dean’s List at the University of Richmond
  • Nadya Riley (Pinellas County Schools Cohort) made the Dean’s List at Florida State University
  • Malathi Reddy (Crossroads for Teens Cohort) made the Dean’s List at the Northeastern University Honors College
  • Sam Patterson (Crossroads for Teens) made the Dean’s List at the University of Maryland – Baltimore County (Meyerhoff Scholar)
  • Summer Ford (TCC Cohort) made the Dean’s List at the University of Georgia
  • Thuong Do (Guilford County Schools Cohort) made the Dean’s List at Elon University

High School Seniors

As our high school seniors continue to receive college acceptances and generous scholarship offers, we want to recognize students who have been offered full scholarships:

  • Angelina M., Jayla S., Joshua W., and Sydney S., (Guilford County Schools Cohort), have been offered admission to the NC A&T Honors Program and invited to interview for the Dowdy Scholars Program
  • Bre’an M., (Atlanta-area Cohort) has been offered a full scholarship to Carleton College
  • Clint C., (FCSD3) has been offered a full scholarship to Presbyterian College
  • Joshua W., (Guilford County Schools Cohort) has been offered the Chancellor’s Scholarship (full ride) to Appalachian State
  • Sydney S., (Pinellas County Schools Cohort) has been offered a full scholarship to The University of Chicago

Our Program Components

It is important for all of our students, parents, and community partners to understand the connections between each of the core components or our program(including our monthly newsletters) and how each component is designed to expand college knowledge and deepen student learning. 

Component 1: Our curriculum. The online component of our curriculum is presented through monthly modules, each focused on core components of the college planning process: whether engaging in self-assessment, researching colleges and scholarships, exploring careers, developing an academic résumé, or identifying summer program opportunities. Completing each of these components engages students in critical thinking, analysis, and synthesizing data. Developing these skills provides the foundation for the overall strategic plan revealed through each student’s college application and essays. Each module or unit in which a student fails to complete, or to fully understand, results in a weaker and disconnected college plan. The online component of our curriculum is supplemented by the printed texts, “A High School Plan for Students with College-Bound Dreams,” and “Show Me the Money: A Comprehensive Guide to Scholarships, Financial Aid, and Making the Right College Choice.”

Component 2: Guiding Questions. The Guiding Questions presented at the beginning of each monthly module are designed to guide student learning and strengthen narrative and expository writing skills. Consequently, when a student puts forth the effort to complete each of the modules, what they learned will be revealed in their responses to the Guiding Questions. Through their narrative responses, students should be developing stronger writing skills and exhibiting critical thinking in their college planning. In so doing, students will be developing the skills required to write high quality college and scholarship essays and narrative responses.

Component 3: Conversational Community. Our Atlanta-area Cohort (pictured above) is our most unique cohort. Unlike other cohorts, where students complete the work in the room, students in our Atlanta-area Cohort make a commitment to complete the monthly activities between meetings. Consequently, time during the monthly meeting is focused on engaging in round table discussions (as in a college class) through which they share what they have learned, defend their strategies, and engage in deep levels of thinking about their plans and future goals. Cultivating conversational communities is a central goal of most selective colleges and universities. Amherst College prides itself on being a, “Conversational Community” where the exchange of ideas occur everywhere—on the lawn, in classrooms, dormitories, and in the cafeteria. While every cohort may not have the opportunity of engaging students in conversations with other students, students must be engaging in conversations with parents, mentors, or school counselors about they are learning and the college-bound plans that are being formulated.

Component 4: Monthly Newsletters. Through our monthly newsletters, we provide important content, profile current and former students, introduce the guiding questions, and provide important announcements. All parents and students should be reading the monthly newsletters. To encourage more students to read the monthly newsletter, a Newsletter Quiz is introduced into the monthly module on the first of each month. 

Collectively, these four components are at the heart of our program, whether students are participating in a cohort operated by one of our community or school district partners, or working independently.

High School Juniors

The February Module: Researching Colleges and Scholarships guides students through answering the single guiding question, “What are the best college opportunities for students with my interests, academic achievement level, career aspirations, and financial need?” The unit will guide students in developing a comprehensive college list and in identifying scholarship opportunities to which students are well matched.

Attention Parents: Please complete Module 2 (2nd Semester): Unit 3 (FAFSA4caster) with your student. Knowing your financial need as students begin finalizing their college list is critically important in reducing the time and money of applying to the wrong schools.

High school juniors who are entering our program for the first time and who were unable to complete the December Module on summer planning, should explore the following opportunities to expose themselves to top colleges and to foster a relationship with schools.

Beware of Unsolicited Summer Program Opportunities

As students take the PSAT, SAT, ACT, and AP exams, their contact information will make its way onto a variety of mailing lists that will generate unsolicited emails and letters from summer programs and colleges. As outlined in our Summer Programs Module, students must carefully review and consider such solicitations. Many students will receive solicitations from such programs as the National Society of High School Scholars and National Youth Leadership Forum in impressive envelopes.

To determine if such programs are right for you, and will provide a good return on your investment of time and money, begin by researching the top summer programs and determine if the program that sent you and email or letter is on any of the lists:

Prior to considering any program, be a good steward of your money and search for reviews of the program: 

Grades 9 – 10

The February Module: Researching Colleges and Scholarships (Part I) guides students in beginning their college research and exploring the wide range of college opportunities, from dual degree to cooperative education programs, liberal arts colleges to research universities, and honors programs to test optional colleges. We encourage parents and cohort facilitators to engage students in conversations about their research to ensure that students are expanding their understanding of the array of postsecondary college and scholarship opportunities.

February Discussion Topics

Having entered the second semester of the school year, students should have the skills to provide more than single sentence narrative responses. Students should be able to easily formulate two paragraphs, which fully explain why they are, or are not, interested in pursuing certain college options. So doing provides evidence that students have an awareness of their options and why options do, or do not, align with their educational and career aspirations.

Following are the guiding questions from the first lesson:

  • Writing Prompt #1:  Summarize your thoughts regarding liberal arts colleges. Explain why you believe a liberal arts college would or would not be a good fit. (minimum of one paragraph)
  • Writing Prompt #2: If you are planning to apply to liberal arts colleges, list each liberal arts college to which you are planning to apply and why.
  • Writing Prompt #3:  Summarize your thoughts regarding research universities? Explain why you believe a research university would or would not be a good fit. (minimum of one paragraph)
  • Writing Prompt #4:  If you are planning to apply to research universities, list each research university to which you are planning to apply and why.

In The News…

Middle School Students

Each summer, we conduct College Planning Boot Camps for middle school students in Judson Independent School District (TX), Pinellas County Schools (FL), and at the Paragon Charter Academy (MI). Pictured above is Jocelyn, a participant in our Pinellas County Schools College Planning Boot Camp. We are overjoyed to learn that Jocelyn, and many of our Florida, Texas, and Michigan middle schoolers exceeded the goals set during our summer boot camps across academics, leadership, and service.

Jocelyn, together with other middle school students, participated in our mid-year session at Lakewood High School to celebrate their first semester success, plan their second semester goals; and consider their high school choice within the context of their overall strategic plan. Jocelyne and other students engaged in self-reflection pertaining to their first semester performance, set second semester goals, and researched the best colleges for continuing to develop their gifts and talents across such areas as academics, theatre and performing arts, and athletics.

Each time that we check-in with our Judson ISD College Planning Boot Camp participants, who are now well into their high school career, we are amazed at the passion in which they are pursuing their academic achievement. We interviewed, then middle school student, Ronald, who developed his 4-year high school schedule with a goal of being a straight ‘A’ student throughout each of his four years of high school. Now, as a high school sophomore, Ronald is still a straight ‘A’ student, and is joined by boot camp participants Juilana, Lauren, Alejandro, Dominque, and Temiyemi, who are all at the top of their class in their respective high schools. During our interview with Ian, the only 9th grade participant in our boot camp, he noted that the most impactful activity was the résumé assessment activity, through which he developed a set of academic, leadership, and community service goals. Now, as a high school junior, Ian is also a straight ‘A’ student and achieving his goals in across each of the areas of academics, leadership, and service.

Our first Paragon Charter Academy College Planning Boot Camp 8th graders are now high school sophomores. Most of this amazing group of students are achieving every goal set during the boot camp. Pictured here are students who are performing at the top of their class academically, and contributing to the harmonious sound of the Northwest High School Marching Band (pictured, left to right: Mallory B.; Quinatzin M.; Briston A.; and Adriana C.).

Atlanta-area Cohort Youth Leadership Board: The following outstanding students have become part of the Atlanta-area Cohort Youth Leadership Board: Faith K., (11th Grade – Marietta High School); Gabrielle Q., (11th Grade – Campbell High School); Jada F., (11th Grade – South Cobb High School); Kailer B., (11th Grade – Mt. Paran); Nia S., (11th Grade – Lithia Springs High School); Omar D., Jr., (9th Grade – Paulding County High School); Rachel T., (10th Grade – Marietta High School); Tristyn B., (11th Grade – Mt. Paran); Tyra G., (11th Grade – Collins Hill High School); and Sydnee B., (11th Grade – Mt. Paran).

Guilford County Schools Youth Leadership Board: The following students have volunteered to serve on our Guilford County Schools Youth Leadership Board: Kobra A., (11th Grade – High Point Central High School); Sarah S., (11th Grade – Northern Guilford High School); and Stephanie E., (11th Grade – Ragsdale High School). 

New High School Junior Cohorts: As a result of an enthusiastic and informative presentation by high school counselor, Mrs. Cathy Heatly, over 65 Lakewood High School juniors signed up for our Pinellas County Schools Cohort. Students were welcomed by PCS Cohort student, Sydney S., who encouraged students to take the work seriously and to make a commitment to “Own the Process.” She talked about what it meant to have applied Early Decision and received the UChicago acceptance and financial aid award letters in December and knowing where she will be going to college and that college will be fully paid for, while most of her friends are still waiting to hear from colleges. We have also welcomed a cohort of high school juniors at Lake City Early College High School in Florence County School District 3.

February Meeting Dates/Times

Sunday, February 2, 2020: United Ghana Christian Church Cohort (10:00 am – 12:30 pm).

Sunday, February 9, 2020: The Next Episode: Teen Bible Student/College Planning Session for high school juniors and seniors. Turner Chapel AME Church • Marietta, GA Boardroom (9:30 am – 11:30 am).

Sunday, February 9, 2020: Atlanta-area Cohort: Turner Chapel AME Church • Marietta, GA (11:30 am – 12:45 pm).

Sunday, February 9, 2020: Crossroads for Teens Cohort grades 9 – 12. Johnson Ferry Baptist Church • Marietta, GA (3:00 pm – 4:30 pm).

Saturday, February 15, 2020: Pinellas County Schools High School Cohort grades 9 – 12. Lakewood High School Media Center • 1400 54th Ave, S • St. Petersburg, FL (9:00 pm – 1:00 pm). 

Friday, February 21, 2020: Lake City Early College High School Juniors Cohort (9:00 am – 2:30 pm). Students will be excused from class to the College Corner. Seniors will be seen by appointment.

Saturday, February 22, 2020: Guilford County Schools Cohort: Seniors (9:00 am – Noon); Juniors (Noon – 3:00 pm). Location: GTCC Greensboro Campus.

Saturday, February 22, 2020: ASA Guide Right Cohort Fortis College (9:00 am).

Saturday, March 14, 2020: ASA Guide Right Mentoring Workshop

Mark of Your Calendar for Our Summer College Planning Boot Camps: Register Now

June 1 – 4: Rising 9th Graders. Judson ISD (Converse, TX).
June 8 – 11: Rising 10th Graders. Judson ISD (Converse, TX).
June 16 – 18: Rising 11th Graders. Guilford County Schools (Greensboro, NC).
June 22 – 25: Rising 9th Graders. Pinellas County Schools (St. Petersburg, FL).
July 27 – 30: Rising Seniors. Florence County School District 3 (Lake City, SC).


Registration for our 2020/21 Cohorts opens on July 1. 

We encourage our new students to review past newsletters posted to our blog.

Click here to learn more about our cohorts and other programs…