Public Service Innovators -- Jim McCorkell MPA2 1999: Making Admission Possible

January 5, 2001
Lory Hough

Jim McCorkell (MPA2 1999) came to the Kennedy School knowing he would one day start his own nonprofit. The problem was, he didn't know what to focus on. Then, sitting in a classroom one afternoon at a roundtable discussion on affordable housing, the light bulb went off: why not do something he knew inside and out, both personally and professionally?

That "something" was test prep and college admissions consulting,
services that McCorkell didn't have growing up as a poor student but learned years later working for a test prep company for nearly a decade.

"Throughout my life I've earned my keep by working for Stanley Kaplan, teaching SAT courses to middle-and upper-class kids," McCorkell said. "It occurred to me: why not do what Kaplan does, only for low-income kids?"

The result was the creation of Admission Possible, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that will offer free SAT tutoring services to low-income high schoolers in the Twin City area starting in February. It also will offer assistance in choosing colleges, writing essays, filling out financial aid forms, and connecting to independent scholarships.

McCorkell says the nonprofit is needed for several reasons. Historically there has been a gap between the test scores of wealthy and poor students. According to the College Board, which administers the SAT, the gap between students from families earning more than $100,000 annually and those earning $10,000 or less annually is 258 points. Low-income students often lack sufficient knowledge about the college admissions and financial aid processes. Additionally, the dramatic growth in expensive for-profit test prep services has left many students even further behind. Kaplan, for example, can set parents back $600 to $800 for one 6 to 8 week session. Admission Possible's services will last 14 weeks and will be free.

This doesn't mean the program won't "cost" something, beyond just time and effort: each admitted student is expected to "pay" their way through volunteer work.

"Our services will be free, but we'll require the kids to participate in community service on Saturdays," says McCorkell, a Minnesota native. "This will not only allow them to give back, but will also round them out and make them better applicants for college."

It will also give adults who want to help, but have limited time, the chance to volunteer. This includes a list of other Kennedy School alums, whom McCorkell says have made it possible to turn his idea into reality.

"It's amazing," he says. "The network of people affiliated with the Kennedy School who are ready to help has been amazing. A couple of alums even started an e-mail fundraising campaign. We're not raising a super lot that way, but every check helps."

Also helpful are the skills learned during his MPA days. McCorkell, who was able to quit his fulltime job in September and devote himself entirely to Admission Possible thanks to the Kennedy School's Loan Repayment Assistance Program, says he draws on them every day.

"From Gary Orren's course on persuasion to classes on finance, I use these tools all the time," McCorkell says. "I have no doubt that if I hadn't gone to the Kennedy School, I wouldn't have had the courage to start my own nonprofit."

Photo: (L) Jim McCorkell, Executive Director (R) Christine Greenhow, Director of Teaching and Learning

For more information about Admission Possible, go to www.admissionpossible.org

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