As classes started up in the fall of ’98, most freshmen began the often-grueling process of adapting to college. They joined clubs and committees, flooded Lamont, and figured out when the lines at Annenberg didn’t stretch around the corner.
First-year Jacquelyn Y. Kung, however, wasn’t quite over the struggle it had been to get in. Coming from a small town in Texas, it hadn’t been an easy path. “Each college counselor was assigned to 300 students, so when I wasn’t a troublemaker I didn’t get much of their attention. Once at Harvard, I found commonality in a lack of information,” she says.
As a result, in the summer of ’99, Kung started “College Matters,” an education non-profit run by students and directed towards spreading information on the nuts and bolts of getting into top schools across the country. She began by conducting a seminar on college admissions in her hometown, and quickly packed her city hall with eager soon-to-be high school graduates and parents.
At Harvard, Kung began assembling a team to continue these seminars across the country in an effort to help primarily underprivileged students for whom information about colleges is scarce—but essential in getting them to any form of higher education.
Six years later, College Matters has expanded tremendously. This fall, it published a book. The College Matters Guide to Getting into the Elite College of Your Dreams is a compilation of 14 specialized chapters written by 15 college students from various schools across the country, including four from Harvard. Melissa L. Dell ’05, a senior in Winthrop house and the managing editor of the book, wrote the Standardized Test chapter with an eye for basic facts: “In high school, my guidance counselor thought the SAT was out of 3,600 points.”
Two other members of the class of 2005, Kiran Gupta and Manik V. Suri, co-authored the chapter on the college essay after gaining interest in helping underprivileged kids while tutoring minority students with the “Let’s Get Ready” organization. Kung, now at Harvard Business School, wrote about the importance of high school activities. Their end result, what Suri describes as a “step-by-step manual of how you go about the process of applying to college,” is now published through McGraw-Hill publishing company and in bookstores around the world.
When probed on why this manifesto is different from the countless others that claim to break the code of college admissions, Dell points to “the fact that we had input from so many people. We had the viewpoints of 15 very different students.”
Kung looks to the strength in the “by the student for the student” aspect of the book. “So many of those books are written by admissions officers. These are students the reader can relate to,” Kung says. One separation is that The College Matters Guide is completely non-profit, donating 100 percent of its earnings to a scholarship fund to assist those who they help get into college actually be able to attend.
“Only 3 percent of the students at top universities come from the bottom income tile. The inequities are enormous,” says Dell.
The authors all hope that the book can help raise this percentage as it punctures communities where knowledge about college is lacking. With the success of the book, Gupta says she would “like to see more diversity in the true sense of the word” in the ever spectulated-on game of college admissions.