As a student-entrepreneur, the first question that people always ask when they find out about my business is: What made you decide to start this? Well, it's hard to explain - because my decision to start College Quo was a culmination of several things. I didn't wake up one day with a sudden epiphany that I needed to do this. For about a year before I actually made the 'jump', it was always in the back of my mind. I knew that I could do it, but I feared my lack of legitimacy. Why would anyone simply 'take my word for it' that I had enough knowledge to provide these services and get paid for it?
Well, here is my story (and I'm starting from the very beginning, so bear with me):
When I was a student at Campion College, it never dawned on me that I could (and would) go to university overseas. I wasn't a citizen of anywhere else but Jamaica. My parents could never afford it. I had a clear path in mind - finish my time at Campion, and then go to Law School at UWI. I wasn't sure that I wanted to do Law, but it seemed like a decent enough option. Then, I met someone who would later become my best friend. Let's call her Sally. Sally transferred to Campion in 3rd form and quickly, we were inseparable. When you saw one, you saw the other. Naturally, we talked about our futures - what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. Long story short, Sally made me realize that I didn't HAVE TO limit myself to Jamaica and that there are a multitude of possibilities out there. Even though we're no longer friends, I will always value the friendship that I had with her - because maybe, if it wasn't for her, my life would be very different.
Fast forward to 5th form. Everyone was now in the 'what are you doing after graduation' craze. Sally, and others, were going to boarding school overseas. Many were going to continue 6th form at Campion. Some were going straight into university. I felt like everyone had a clear trajectory - a linear path from A to B. I didn't. While I loved Campion and wanted to stay, I knew that I wanted to be challenged in a different way. I'm not sure how Hillel came up as an option, but I remember bringing home a pamphlet for the IB Program and handing it to my parents saying "this is what I want to do". I knew that I wanted to go overseas and I knew that Hillel would make it a bit easier to reach my end goal. My dad was all for it but my mom was a bit more hesitant. Up until this point, she thought that my idea of going to University overseas was "just a phase" (I still tease her about it...little did she know I would end up in Maine lol). There happened to be an Info Session for the IB Program that night, and my parents went. They were sold! So, after a long process, I got a scholarship and went to Hillel.
Now came the real confusion: How do I even go about actualizing my dream of going to university overseas? Where should I apply? How do I apply? How do I get scholarships? It was overwhelming.
I'm a little bit obsessed with research. I got REALLY REALLY INTO the college application process. I lived on websites like College Confidential, I made charts and spreadsheets, I read countless essays of students admitted to my dream schools. Still, it was too much for me to handle on my own and I knew that I needed to get outside help. So I went to a popular College Help program for Jamaican students. They helped me a lot and maybe if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have gotten into the universities that I did. Still, it came with a hefty price tag. My decision to start College Quo was not to compete with said company, but to offer an alternative to students. But we'll get to that in a minute.
I took the SATs three times. I got playfully teased for how seriously I took it. I was the girl who ALWAYS had an SAT book in her hand while walking around school. I even bought an online SAT strategy book and read it from cover to cover (the SAT Blackbook - highly recommend!). In the Hillel yearbook, my "most likely" was 'most likely to pass the SATs'. Technically, you can't pass or fail the SATs but it shows just how seriously I took it. I knew that being an international student who needed significant financial aid was the hardest category to be in. I knew that the universities that give the most financial aid to international students are the most competitive (we're talking Ivies, NESCACs and their peer schools). I knew how badly I wanted this. So I put in the work.
Unpopular opinion: I actually enjoyed the SATs. To me, it was a game. You study the strategies of the test and learn the rules and you're golden. I also really enjoyed the process of college admissions. It was motivating, exciting and even felt a little bit magical. I ended up somewhat 'counseling' (unofficially) many of my friends: 'Don't apply here, they don't give good aid to internationals'... 'You should look into this school, I think you'd be a great fit'. I even ended up editing some of their essays and I realized how much I enjoyed doing it. Still, it never really dawned on me to start a business from it.
I remember looking first at the Ivy League (and schools like Stanford and University of Chicago). But after going to an info session for Wesleyan, Amherst and Williams - I decided that liberal arts was PERFECT for me! (I'll make a separate blog post about this...because I could write a book about it). In the end, I didn't apply to a single Ivy League, or Stanford. I applied to almost exclusively liberal arts colleges - Pomona, Bowdoin, Bates, Colby, Macalester, Grinnell, Bard etc etc (as well as a couple safety schools). Actually, I didn't even apply to UWI (which, looking back, might not have been the smartest decision because going overseas was not guaranteed). I got a few acceptances, many waitlists and a couple rejections. I remember the day the Bowdoin decision was coming out. I was ANXIOUS. I already got waitlisted at many schools that statistically were 'easier' to get into, so I knew that my chances were slim. The acceptance rate was less than 12%. There's no way..... but I opened the portal and saw balloons and confetti on the screen and the word "congratulations" . They also offered me an all-expense paid trip to Maine for admitted students weekend. I was overjoyed. A few weeks later, I visited Bowdoin and fell in love. It was perfect for me. Even though I got off the waitlist at other schools, and got better financial aid offers, I ended up going to Bowdoin.
Fast forward again - this time to freshman year at Bowdoin. I remember one day scrolling through snapchat and seeing a student complain about the stresses of college admissions. Without hesitating, I messaged him: "I can help you with your applications for a small fee!". After some communication, it was settled. College Quo was not yet born, but this was the event that kickstarted it all. That student now goes to university in Wales, UK. I realized that I had a passion for this, and I was really good at it too! Everything, at that moment, came together - it suddenly all made sense. I was meant to do this. I knew that a gap existed in Jamaica and I wanted to make College Help more affordable and accessible.
A few months later, College Quo was born. It took weeks to build the website and create a business plan but when it finally came together, it was so worth it. My college roommates can attest to this - for 2 weeks straight it was me, on the couch in sweats, working on my website until the wee hours of the morning. And...well, the rest is history.