Opening Doors to education

Clearing The Path To A Higher Education

A college applications coach doesn’t limit herself to serving the privileged

Soon after Amy Morgenstern launched Blue Stars Admissions Consulting in 2010 to help high school students and their parents navigate the complicated and often stressful process of applying to colleges, she started to think about how she could bring her services to students whose parents might not necessarily be able to afford them.

“I noticed that a tutoring company had a foundation to provide free tutoring to under-resourced students, so I contacted them and said, ‘Hey, maybe one of those students needs help getting into college, I’d love to make a difference.’ And that’s how it got started,” she said.

Since then, she has spent part of her time each year helping a small handful of students and their families on a pro bono basis. “The first student was someone from the Oakdale area of San Francisco,” an industrial neighborhood with one of the lowest income levels in the city. “She started off one of her college essays with the sentence, ‘In my neighborhood, kids start smoking pot before they learn algebra,'” Morgenstern told Good Turns recently. “She had some amazing stories. She was an amazing person, a community leader, and I helped her get into a four-year college.” That was in 2013, and the student has since graduated with a four-year degree, and Morgenstern is helping her find a paralegal position.

“Students who have the money can afford this thing, but every student should have this”

Compared to some of the students Morgenstern has worked with, that one was pretty straightforward. “The next year, I got another student from that same tutoring company,” she says. “I was trying to get her to go to a summer program at Brown, I knew they had financial aid, and I asked her to fill out the financial aid part, but she wouldn’t. I kept asking, and finally I got a very formal email from her, explaining her undocumented status.”

While the student was reluctant to apply for financial aid, she did mention a woman from a local Rotary Club who had helped her, by the name of Jennifer Pence. “Jennifer and I started talking and we started partnering on this student,” Morgenstern said. “She understood the admissions pathway for undocumented students, and we figured it out. She’s really a wizard.” Together, they helped the student get into UC Merced’s pre-med program, an opportunity she might not have had access to without the kind of help the pair provided.

The next year, the pair worked with another undocumented student and helped her obtain one of the few full-ride scholarships earmarked especially for undocumented students. Soon enough, Morgenstern began to get a reputation. “We’ve sort of created this word-of-mouth network among the undocumented crowd,” she says. “They are very, very industrious people. It’s been really just a true joy, it’s a real highlight.”

And it is not just applications counseling that Morgenstern provides her clients, whether they’re paying or not. “I call it personal-growth-oriented life coaching for college and art school and grad school applicants,” she says. “Traditionally, we serve very high-achieving students. We’re known for helping students get into all the brand name schools, every year that happens. But I’m very interested in teen wellness and making the college journey one of personal growth. So we work with students starting in the ninth grade, helping them manage their time, explore their interests, and define themselves in ways that also help create healthy habits for their adulthood.”

“We’re helping students become healthy adults and get into great schools,” Morgenstern says. But part of her mission is to democratize college coaching. “Students who have the money can afford this thing, but every student should have this.”

“In many ways, the pro bono college planning is a subset of a larger enterprise,” Morgenstern says. “I’m always finding ways to help people see things from an expanded field. I put that into practice in different ways, and once I was doing the business, it actually felt unnatural, because the rest of my life is so very much geared to opening up the playing field and achieving more diversity. My whole spirit is geared toward seeing what happens when people can exercise their agency and their imaginations, learn who they are at a deeper level, and make that contagious to other people.” Let’s hope she starts an epidemic of generosity and goodwill.

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