It was 2012 and Windsor High School graduate Amy Jeffrey was home from college after her freshman year to teach an SAT preparation class at her alma mater.
She worked with students getting ready to apply to colleges. It was as difficult a process as she remembered from when she and her peers had gone through it.
“It was complicated, and all my friends found it complicated as well,” said Jeffrey, 22, recalling what she went through her senior year.
Working with the Windsor students, she said, drove home that there was no easy way to gather and organize all the information needed to apply for college and financial aid.
“It just seemed crazy that every student needed to come up with this list of specific requirements and deadlines on their own, and it wasn’t just students in the SAT class; it was students across the country,” said Jeffrey, who graduated from Harvard University in May.
That revelation set the daughter of a winemaker and a filtration company executive on an unforeseen course. She went back to Harvard, majored in computer science, built a website and founded a company to smooth the way for aspiring college students.
Jeffrey’s Make Me a Freshman business is an online service for high school students to find the specific forms and deadlines required by their chosen colleges, as well as corresponding financial aid information. Computer algorithms Jeffrey developed scrape college websites for the information.
It’s simple: Students enter the name of the colleges they are interested in and a long checklist pops up of what students need to do and when they have to file their applications. If they don’t see a college, Jeffrey adds it.
Students who use the website get weekly reminders about upcoming tasks that are due. And the website includes a portal for counselors, teachers and parents to register so they can keep track of their children’s progress.
The site is free to use; Jeffrey is developing plans to sell college-related advertising in the future.
Montgomery High School counselor Julie Natalini said there is a clear need for such services.
“The college application and even the college search process these days for our students is very complicated,” she said. “Any tool to navigate through the process and aid students (to) pin down or narrow down their options is great.”
It’s also an increasing need, Natalini said.
“What we’re seeing now is, because our demographic has changed, we’re seeing a lot of first-time college students,” she said. “Parents have no idea how to support them or no idea about the deadline process and what goes into applying to college.”
Jeffrey won a $10,000 Harvard innovation grant that helped her test the website and, just before she graduated, secured a six-figure investment — she can’t disclose the exact amount — from a San Francisco venture capital firm.
Make Me a Freshman now has 4,000 registered students and 50 counselors and is growing 20 percent a week, said Jeffrey, the company’s only full-time employee alongside some part-time college interns.
“I have a lot of ideas about ways I’d like to expand, but right now the checklist is my core focus,” she said. On the horizon is a method for students to find which schools their test scores make them most eligible for, along with SAT prep courses, she added.