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Sara Jennings never questioned whether she would go to college. Both her parents—David, a middle school guidance counselor, and Judy, an employee with the High Skilled Educator program—are college graduates, and education was always a priority in the Lee County home she shares with sisters Mary, a high school junior, and Ellen Grace, a preschooler. Sara is also an exceptional student. Valedictorian of her high school class, she graduated with a perfect 4.0 grade point average and scored an impressive 29 on her ACT test.

The real question in the Jennings household was financial: how Sara would be able to afford the college of her choice—Georgetown College, a private, nationally ranked school with a tuition of approximately $16,370 a year. How they answered that question—a financial question most parents face—is what this story is about. It is the story of preparation and individual excellence you expect, but like all good stories this one has a twist, for this story is mostly about teamwork

The “Team Jennings” story, as we call it, starts in Beattyville, a small eastern Kentucky town. Sara is a sophomore at Lee County High School, and she is busy. Academically, she is on her way to becoming the only student at Lee County High ever to graduate with perfect 100s and a 4.0 GPA in every nine-week grading period. As the top-ranking sophomore in her class, Sara has just been chosen as a Hugh O’Brien Scholar, her first scholarship. Sara is also an athlete—a cheerleader and a member of her high school volleyball and tennis teams. Amazingly, Sara still has time for church and volunteer work.

Her parents are justifiably proud of their eldest daughter’s high school success. Mother Judy remembers thinking that she knew Sara was doing well by Lee County standards, but she also knew that Sara had big dreams that included a private college.

Sara often discusses those dreams with her high school counselor, Jamie Stickler. Knowing Sara is college bound, Stickler encourages her to take the four advanced placement courses at Lee County High, the most demanding classes the school offers. He steers her to the Governor’s Scholars Program, knowing that if Sara is accepted into that program she is guaranteed a scholarship at any state college. He alerts her to the scholarships coming across his desk. He also advises her to take the PSAT, a precursor to the ACT, which will reveal her strengths and weaknesses in time to prepare for the ACT. Stickler finds that Sara is equally aggressive about mapping out her future, always actively pursuing any leads he gives her. He likes that about her and wishes more of his students were this assertive. Stickler becomes the fourth member of Team Jennings, on board just after Sara and her parents.

Back at home, parents David and Judy know it is time for Sara to start doing more than thinking about college, although she still has two years of high school to complete. They start shopping for an educational consultant who can help them figure out how to finance Sara’s dream. David remembers a call he had received earlier from Tom Pabin, president of College Finance & Planning Inc., with offices in Lexington and Louisville. Pabin had done a free financial aid workshop for David’s students when David was a high school counselor. After talking with Pabin, the Jenningses hire him to help Sara. For his $1,000 fee, Pabin will help prepare Sara for the ACT, help her decide on the best college for her, and help her find scholarships to pay for that college.

Pabin has a dual role on Team Jennings as coach and matchmaker. As an academic coach, Pabin echoes Stickler’s advice to take the ACT test several times to get her score as high as possible. He knows that colleges look only at the highest score. He will help Sara prepare for this important test.

As a matchmaker, Pabin looks at Sara’s interests and strengths, helping her match those to a college where she will thrive. Perhaps most importantly, he leads Sara through the maze of scholarship options. Pabin knows there are more than 600,000 scholarships out there, each with unique qualifying criteria.

Meanwhile, as a high school junior, Sara continues to do her part. She maintains good grades. She works with Pabin at night to prepare for the ACT. She keeps her life in balance with a mix of academics, athletics, church, community projects, and social activities. She is also chosen as a Junior Rogers Scholar and receives a full week in Somerset, packed with motivational speakers and lots of advice for rising stars.

Other players join Team Jennings, and current players take on new roles. Sara’s grandmother—an English teacher for 33 years—helps Sara prepare for her English classes and that portion of the ACT test. Father David does likewise with mathematics, one of his majors in college. During her junior year, Sara takes the ACT test several times. Her score will help her with the other major focus now—applying for scholarships, which Sara soon learns can be a job in itself.

It is now the summer before her senior year. Sara is weighing the merits of different colleges. She wants to remain relatively close to home but also wants a top-notch school. She takes advantage of the college fairs and visitation days offered through her school. With her parents, she tours various campuses and applies to three. She is also chosen for the Governor’s Scholars Program where she meets other cream-of-the-crop students from across the state.

Now just months before college, Sara spends her senior year completing high school and considering colleges. After visits to numerous colleges—including state schools and private ones—Sara settles on Georgetown College. It will be a good place to begin her adult life and possibly a career in broadcasting or journalism, although Sara isn’t totally settled on a major just yet.

Now the question comes to center stage: how will the Jenningses pay for this top-rate school? The answer: mostly scholarships. Sara receives many academic scholarships because of her high school work. As valedictorian, she receives the local Drew Smith scholarship of $1,000. The president of Georgetown College is so impressed with her that he awards her a $2,000 Presidential scholarship. She automatically qualifies for Kentucky’s Educational Excellence Scholarship money and receives the maximum $2,500 because of her 4.0 GPA and her 29 ACT. She receives a scholarship as part of the Governor’s Scholars Program. Sara also receives many non-academic scholarships. They include the Kentucky Mountain Classic Scholarship for $1,000, a Robert Bird scholarship of $1,500 for four years, and a $500 scholarship through the Georgetown Christian Leadership Program.

Today, Sara is a freshman at Georgetown College, planning to major in communications. She loves the college life as much as she expected, and particularly likes the small-college atmosphere. She has taken on many new challenges—a few too many, she admits—including working for the admissions office, taking two honors classes, and taking a radio class for which she hosts a radio show two nights a week.

And the story does not end there. With little more than an intermission, Team Jennings took a deep breath and started the game anew.

Sister Mary is now a junior at Lee County High School. Like her big sister, Mary is excelling academically and athletically. She has a 4.0 GPA and is the starting point guard for the girls’ basketball team. She has taken the ACT and scored a 28 on her first try, which she will try to top as she looks for schools that have solid programs in pharmacy and law, her current interests. Mary is also getting ready to do the application for the Governor’s Scholars program.

Stickler is now Mary’s high school counselor, and Pabin is working with Mary as he did Sara. Parents David and Judy learned a few lessons with Sara and are trying not to push as hard. Mostly though, each member of the team relishes its past successes, realizes that it took each of them to succeed, and looks forward to future wins.


Sara Jennings:
“Visit the campus. Those visits mean a lot. Also, apply to any school you are thinking about. You never know which college you might like when you get there.”

David Jennings:
“Use a team approach. Each person thinks of something different. You can’t watch everything by yourself.”

Judy Jennings:
“If you have the money, use a college counselor. Even though high school counselors do a great job, they have 300-500 kids to work with. There is no way they can focus totally on one individual student. Having another outside source to put it all together made the difference for us.”

Jamie Stickler:
“Start with the career pathway. There are 14 career paths a student can choose from during their 8th-grade year. Develop an individual graduation plan, and take courses that would help in that future career. Look around, and consider all the options. Don’t just go where everyone else is going.”

Tom Pabin:
“The most overlooked aspect of college planning is preparing for the ACT and SAT. Taking these tests is a skill, although knowledge certainly goes with it. Most people can raise their score if they put time in and work on it. Raising your score raises your chance of a better scholarship.

“Start during the freshman year and get serious during the sophomore year. As a sophomore, you are only 19 months away from applying for college.”


When it comes to getting scholarships, Tom Pabin says the keys words are “get aggressive.” Getting these scholarships is a numbers game, and he says you may have to apply for 20-30 to get two or three, so try for a lot of them. Pabin offers a few ideas to get your thought processes going on possible scholarship outlets, although there are scholarships in just about every category imaginable.

Faith-based Scholarships: If you are Catholic, the Knights of Columbus has a scholarship. Many churches also have matching programs to a particular college in a state or affiliated college.

Health-related Scholarships: The Good Samaritan Foundation gives away 31 scholarships to high school students in Kentucky every year. The grand prize is $5,000. Find out more at

Community Service Scholarships: Each local Wal-Mart and Target offers a scholarship. The Elks Club, the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), and many rural lodges offer scholarships. Check Target stores for information on that scholarship and your high school guidance counselor on the Wal-Mart scholarship.

Business-based Scholarships: Papa John’s, which is headquartered in Kentucky, offers a scholarship at every high school in Lexington, Louisville, and southern Indiana. LexMark offers a scholarship for their employees’ children. Check with your employer.

Utilities: Most of Kentucky’s electric cooperatives offer scholarships, some as many as sixteen $1,000 scholarships each year. Check with your local electric co-op. Kentucky-American Water Company also offers a scholarship.

Credit Card Companies: Discover Card offers nine scholarships of $2,500 each to juniors in Kentucky.

Sports: Athletic scholarships are popular if your child participates in a sport. ESPN also offers a scholarship, although it has nothing to do with athletics. Go online to for information on this scholarship.


When searching for scholarships, Pabin suggests stopping in your high school counselor’s office first. The second step should be an Internet search. Start your Internet search for scholarships with these four sites:
Pabin calls this site the “mother of all outside scholarships.” Some 600,000 scholarships worth $1 billion total are listed. There is also a free college search that includes more than 4,000 colleges.
This popular site allows you to create a personal profile. The site will then match this profile to their database of college scholarships. Search results include scholarship summaries and a custom application request letter. The process is free.
This site is mostly non-academic scholarships. There’s something for everyone from faith-based scholarships to horse-related scholarships. Find the ideal college by looking at criteria such as region, college sports, major, and tuition. Then click instantly from your search list directly to home pages of the schools in which you are interested and sort schools according to detailed profiles provided by ACT.
This is Tom Pabin’s site for College Finance & Planning Inc. There you will find a list of his services as well as information on scholarships, financial aid, the college selection process, links to colleges and universities, and Kentucky volunteer opportunities. There is also a section on preparing for college while in high school.

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