February 22nd, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Pairing up to take the pain out of college search

By Danielle Berger, CNN

San Jose, California (CNN) - At 17 years old, Jessica Perez is an honor student who aspires to be the first member of her family to graduate from college.

But when it came to the application process, she felt lost, alone and ill-prepared.

"I didn't really know where to start," said Perez, who wants to be an astrophysicist. "There wasn't really anybody at home that could help me figure out how I could reach my dream."

Perez's grandparents, who raise Perez and her two siblings, both work long hours to make ends meet. And neither continued their education beyond elementary school.

Fortunately for Perez, she was directed by her school guidance counselor to a nonprofit called Strive for College.

"It helps students who don't really know anything about the college process," she said. "College students come to you and they tell you how to do it because they've been through it also."

Strive for College pairs high-school students with college students for free, one-on-one consultation over a yearlong period. Each pair works together through the application process for colleges, scholarships and financial aid.

Michael Carter's nonprofit has already helped 600 low-income students enter four-year colleges and universities.

"We take them through every little step of the process, because, frankly, it's a pretty detailed process - and if you miss one step, you could ruin all your chances," said Michael Carter, who founded the nonprofit in 2007 while he was a college freshman.

So far, Strive for College has already helped 600 low-income students across the country enter four-year colleges and universities. And it expects to help an additional 900 this year.

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