Making college applications easier

Published 3:00 pm Friday, October 29, 2021

Class 101 seeks to address needs of students, families as they prepare for college

By Matt Hughes

The Messenger

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It is one of the first things that we ask children almost as soon as they learn to talk. So much of childhood is wrapped up in that one question, from career day costumes for Halloween in elementary school to job and college fairs. But the hard reality is that for students and parents, there is no more trying and confusing time than when they have to decide how to make the move from talking about what they want to be to actually make it happen. That is where a new Madisonville educational consulting business hopes to make a difference.

For most seniors and their families, there are more questions than answers. Where do I need to go to college? Where can I afford to go to college? How do I apply for admission? How do I apply for scholarships? What does the college admissions board want to see on applications?

“Its kind of daunting to parents,” said Sara Lutz, one of the founders of Class 101 Western Kentucky.

What should be an exciting time for both students and parents, as they celebrate their child’s graduation and all of their other accomplishments up to that point, turns into a struggle as they try to figure out how to navigate through the process.

“We want to let the parents just be the parents,” said Kia Zieba, a teacher at James Madison Middle School and Lutz’s partner in the venture. “We can push them to keep their grades up, to get their applications in on time and to get everything done. When you’re the parent, that can be tough.”

For both Lutz and Zieba, arriving at the decision to open Class 101 in Madisonville came through their own frustrations as parents trying to help their own children through the process.

“My daughter had huge college dreams,” Lutz said. “We did not have a huge college budget.”

“We did college prep with my oldest daughter, but the person in charge was in California,” Zieba said. “He might call once a week and check on her, but there was no relationship. Not the type we’re looking to build here.”

Lutz was already aware of Class 101 through her niece and nephew, who had gone through the program in Lexington. Their college planner even went so far as continuing the relationship by visiting with both of them after they’d moved to college in South Carolina.

“The thing Kia and I love the most is the relationships with the students,” she said. “Besides our ACT prep class, all of our meetings are one-on-one. That is what we love.”

Although the vast majority of students participating in the program this year are juniors and seniors, Class 101 seeks to connect with students when they are in the eighth or ninth grade. The idea is to identify early what the child is interested in doing with the rest of their life, and then help them map out a plan to get from where they are to where they want to go.

Once they know what the student is interested in, they begin by identifying colleges that fit with both what the student is looking for in a school and that meet the needs of their career goals.

“The Class 101 goal is to start with 10 schools, apply to seven and to love five,” said Lutz. “Once we have students interested in certain colleges, we begin to focus in on what the colleges want.”

She said they will then start looking to see what activities, clubs and other interests the admissions boards at those colleges look for in prospective students, helping those students to build their college resume. They also look into scholarship opportunities at those colleges to help the students find every avenue available to them.

Class 101 also arranges colleges visits so that students will have a chance to see the colleges they’re interested in and get a feel for if that is where they really want to spend the next four years. For the current crop of students, the program is really playing catch-up. With most of them already at or near the deadline to apply for school for next year, little time remains for them to get the full benefit of Class 101. It is the younger students with which they think they can have the biggest impact.

“We would love to be able to start with students by their freshman year so that we can help them get plugged into everything they need to be plugged into,” Lutz said.

While so much of Class 101 is looking towards the future, they don’t forget about the present.

“We spend time every time we meet just talking about grades,” said Lutz. “Merit money (based on grades) and ACT scores are the most accessible ways for students to get money for college.”

But although they will focus on the kid’s grades, that is not all of what Class 101 is about. Grades are the student’s responsibility. Class 101 is focused on the bigger picture, using those grades as one of the ways of helping students succeed in reaching their college goals.

“We’re not a tutoring service,” Lutz said. “We already have those in our community.”

On Monday night Lutz and Zieba were working with a group of juniors and seniors on ACT prep. The class starts eight weeks before the test, which is scheduled for December, and will conclude just in time for those students to take the exam.

“I was needing help with my ACT scores, said Chloe Young, a junior at Madisonville North Hopkins. “We looked at several different places, and a friend suggested this program.”

Young said that Class 101 has not just helped her prepare for the upcoming ACT, it has also opened doors for her to do community service that she had never even considered, such as working with the fair board and cooking with kids. Its also helped her reassess her future goals

“When I came in, I was dead set on one college,” she said. “Now I’m keeping my options open.”

The local Class 101 program is just one of around 50 from around the country. It all dates back to the 1990s when founder Tom Pabin was working as a youth minister in Lexington.

“Tom was a finance guy by day and a youth minister at night,” said Lutz. “He had a single mother of one of the children in his youth group come to him. She didn’t know what to do. He started meeting with the daughter every week at Fazoli’s. A few months later she was bringing 20 friends with her.”

Lutz and Zieba hope to see their own branch of Class 101 see the same kind of success.

Parents or students interested in find out more about the program can call 270-452-2522 or visit their website at: class101.com/westernkentucky