Every spring and fall for almost a decade, about 50 Somerville High School students received free SAT preparation and college admission counseling from undergraduate volunteers as part of a local Let’s Get Ready program. This chapter, which has now served hundreds of students, was established by Vanessa Fass (née Salazar), a Tufts University graduate. Once a student receiving free SAT prep and mentoring services from the nonprofit, Vanessa became a volunteer and program leader herself before starting her career in law.
When Vanessa was a junior at New York City Lab School, she realized she needed help to improve her SAT scores. Unable to afford expensive SAT classes, Vanessa turned to Let’s Get Ready. “I knew I wanted to go to college, but being from Colombia, my parents were unfamiliar with the process,” says Vanessa. “My college guidance program was good, but I faced a lot of discouragement. I wanted to shoot high for a reach school, but they wanted me to apply to more ‘realistic’ choices.”
Vanessa decided to enroll in the 2005 summer Let’s Get Ready program for help. There, she met her Reading and Writing Coach Andrea, who encouraged Vanessa to apply to her ‘reach’ school, Tufts, and shared stories of how she got to Princeton. She also helped Vanessa get a leg up on her applications before senior year and boost her vocabulary with fun word-association tricks. “When I took the actual test, I couldn’t help but smile when I came across the word ‘gregarious’ — and remembered Andrea’s Uncle Greg,” Vanessa shares.
Ultimately, Vanessa increased her SAT score by 330 points and was accepted into Tufts. Let’s Get Ready helped her secure a financial aid package and grants, including a highly-selective scholarship awarded by the New York Times Company.
Vanessa is one of many Let’s Get Ready alumni to grow from College Access Program student to Coach. Prior to her freshman year at Tufts, Vanessa returned to Let’s Get Ready to volunteer at a summer program in New York. Inspired and empowered by her experience as a mentor, she started the Somerville Let’s Get Ready program in her sophomore year.
“Almost everyone at Tufts wanted to get involved, so I knew that recruiting coaches to volunteer for three hours a week would be easy,” explains Vanessa. “Starting the program was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Being on the other side—coaching—and seeing it work wonders was so rewarding. I loved my mentees and still stay in touch with them.”
The program is currently based in Somerville High School, where 70% of students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch. Anthony Ciccariello, who served as the school’s principal until 2012, lauded the program as “phenomenal,” naming it as the key component of its initiative to improve college awareness.
“I think the success of the program rests upon the wonderful Coaches, many who returned to volunteer two or three times,” says Vanessa, humbly adding, “My role was actually minimal. Administrative work doesn’t get Coaches to volunteer or kids to learn; it is the passion, desire, and commitment to help others that drives the program.”
Vanessa graduated from Tufts with a degree in political science and French before pursuing her Master’s in political science at Fordham University. At this time she also embarked on her career in corporate immigration, first as an intern at Bloomberg and then as a paralegal at Fragomen Worldwide. She continued to work at the firm as she pursued her law degree at Fordham, serving as a law clerk before completing her JD and receiving a promotion to Associate Attorney.
While still at Fordham, Vanessa told Let’s Get Ready she plans on becoming Secretary of State. If her accomplishments are any indication, she’s well on her way.