College Prep for Girls: Helping a Generation of Young Women Own Their Power
Reet Alexander knows from experience that it takes a village to raise a child. As a young woman, she was surrounded by female mentors, including family, teachers, and counselors, who pushed her to think beyond the test score.
“The people who were around me, the ones who were preparing me to go into college, were women, and they made sure that it was not just about the SAT but preparing for life,” Alexander says. “Before I even got to Duke, I knew who I was. I was very confident in who I was.”
Today, Alexander is paying it forward. She’s worked in the education field for 20 years as a college prep advisor and strategist independently, for the Los Angeles school district, and for large test prep organizations. Now, as co-founder of College Prep for Girls, she’s providing a village for young women, including those from less privileged backgrounds, where they can prepare to succeed and lead in college and beyond.
Her Los Angeles-based college prep agency — the only one in the world that caters specifically to girls — offers what you might expect: SAT prep, college admissions counseling, and essay writing tutoring. But alongside those skills, Alexander and her team emphasize holistic leadership and critical thinking. They run an eight-day leadership camp for girls every summer in either Big Bear or Los Angeles, and urge students both locally in California and around the world to lean in to their aspirations.
Alexander believes in the dreams of girls. That’s how she got into her line of work — and why she was drawn to DreamHost to build and host the College Prep for Girls website.
“I love the name,” she says. “Anything that has a dream in it, I think it’s great because it’s inspirational. I think that DreamHost really does help you build and launch dreams — for a lot of people, a website represents a dream realized: the business is up, the door is open, and I think that’s just an amazing thing.”
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Breaking the Mold
The idea behind College Prep for Girls sparked when Alexander spotted a common problem during her work with well-known test prep organizations: a cookie-cutter approach. They essentially have students select the services they want from a menu — ACT tutoring, for example, or help writing a college application essay.
“And then the process each student would go through would be the same,” Alexander says. “It didn’t mean that the consultant wasn’t working to address deficits and to celebrate strengths; it means that the students coming through a lot of your typical agencies really were treated the same as if the same process was one size fits all.”
When Alexander broke away as an independent strategist, she was deliberate about creating individualized plans for each student. About 10 years ago, she connected with other like-minded college prep consultants and formed College Prep for Girls. It was a chance for all of them to fix the problems they’d identified in the industry.
The cookie-cutter college prep methods were particularly unhelpful to girls. Women tend to be naturally holistic thinkers and learners, Alexander explains. Holistic learners approach everything as part of a whole — every part of life and learning is interconnected. But traditional education tends to promote linear thinking, which prizes labels, boxes, and sequences.
“I saw that as girls went through the college admissions process, they didn’t own it,” she says. “It wasn’t a process that was really about them, because it was so linear. It didn’t take into consideration the holistic experiences and skills that we as women and girls have. ”
Looking beyond linear education models, Alexander chose to bring in holistic skills such as critical thinking, cultivating a growth mindset, and considering interests and aspects of life beyond tests and classrooms.
“Studies have indicated that females are a bit more holistic in our approach to pretty much communicating, tackling tasks, living life,” Alexander says. “We are gifted in that way. And by making sure that both holistic and linear approaches to learning and living were celebrated through College Prep for Girls, what ended up happening was a program that was tailored for each student.”
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Pay it Forward
Elitism in the college prep industry was another problem Alexander set out to fix. To bring more equality and less elitism into her agency, Alexander drew a little inspiration from an unlikely source: Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn’s friend Ella Fitzgerald had a beautiful jazz voice with the power to draw crowds, but systemic racism in the 1950s meant she was barred from performing in certain nightclubs. When the famous L.A. club Mocambo refused to book Fitzgerald, Monroe was outraged. She promised the club owner that if he gave Fitzgerald the gig, she’d sit in the front row every night, guaranteeing an audience with her star power. The owner agreed, and Fitzgerald sang to a sold-out house every night — earning her an extended contract.
“In essence, Marilyn Monroe sponsored Ella Fitzgerald,” Alexander says. “She made sure that she opened the door to someone who wouldn’t have been able to open that door herself. She said, ‘I have the means and the access because of privilege, and therefore I’m going to use that to gain access for someone else.’”
A similar sponsorship philosophy is at the heart of College Prep for Girls. When a college admissions strategist consults with a family and puts together a service package based on the interests and goals of the student, they are invited to fund a similar package for a student from an underserved community or family.
“This model had been very well received,” Alexander says. “So many parents that I encounter are looking at ways to contribute to causes that are related to education. This is a great way to do that. If you had the means to pay for services for your daughter and you also have the ability to sponsor another girl, that’s really an amazing investment that’s going to pay off in so many different ways. That’s what sets College Prep for Girls apart from the rest.”
Owning Their Power
Alexander wants to make clear that College Prep for Girls wasn’t founded to exclude anyone.
“It’s similar to what you might see in traditional education, where you may have all-girls schools or all-boys schools,” she says. “The reason that many of those institutions exist is not because we want to embrace one gender and reject the other. It’s really about trying to make sure to give girls a lot of the opportunities that may have been delayed when it comes to being a girl.”
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“We’re still trying to get our girls to really own their power and their ability to lead,” says Alexander, “to own their right to stand in the room and say, ‘I matter, I want to be counted, I want to be president of the United States, I want to run a Fortune 500 company,’ and do it without feeling as if they’re being overly ambitious or too aggressive. We want to help them step into their power, because for so long, we haven’t been really encouraged to do so.”
Alexander feels lucky that she grew up with female role models because she saw so many women in grad school, college, and high school who simply didn’t feel confident and empowered. That’s why she and her colleagues built their summer leadership academy, which includes SAT and essay writing workshops, but is really designed as an introduction to leadership styles and skills.
Building confidence and self-esteem are goals built into all of their services, from the leadership academy to admissions strategizing.
“Our culture hasn’t really taken the time over the years to help girls so that they don’t feel as if they are an anomaly when they take charge, or when they are getting the best grades in school they’re feeling kind of self-conscious because they don’t want the spotlight,” Alexander says. “And so it’s really working on all of the different components so that when they get to college and they start exploring their life, move through that space and then later on into the work world feeling very confident. The goal is to prepare them to walk into any room and know that they belong there.”
Spreading the Word
College Prep for Girls existed long before the website was built. Students found them through word of mouth and referrals — but eventually, the team decided it was time to “get official” and launch a site to broaden their reach.
Thinking of their audience — girls and their parents — Alexander set out to create a website that was inviting. “We didn’t want it to be sterile and intimidating; we wanted those visiting the site to find information easily and then be able to connect with us. I like that it came together organically and that it looks like a site I would want to visit if I were in the shoes of a parent of a student looking for services.”
“We wanted something fun and interactive,” Alexander says, so the site uses a chatbot — a floating head in the corner of the page that, when clicked, turns into a helpful full-body avatar named Joanna — to help visitors get the information they need quickly. The website’s ultimate call to action is to get parents a free phone consultation to help both parties determine if College Prep for Girls is a good match.
“I hope parents and students get the sense that this site is for them, and that there isn’t any pressure to do more than reach out for your free consultation,” she says. “If that’s enough, then we are happy for you. We don’t know if we are going to be able to help you until we have that conversation, and once we have the conversation, then as the conversation unfolds, we’ll know if there’s something that we can do to help.”
When it comes to maintaining the site, she’s more than happy with her dreamy host.
“DreamHost is really just simple; there isn’t anything that’s complicated about it,” she says. “I love that it’s so ethical. I chose it because I like what it represents. It feels like it actually cares about those who utilize the platform. And I like having a site built on a platform that I can rely on, and I know that if I need to change something, it’s relatively easy to do that.”
Metrics that Matter
Any business, big or small, measures its success in terms of profit and potential to scale. To Alexander, these metrics have always been beside the point.
She’s seen shy, quiet girls find their voice and learn how to speak up in a way that demonstrates knowledge and confidence. She’s seen others who insist they know nothing about writing transform within weeks to someone who can declare, “I am a writer — thanks to you, I know I can do anything.”
“You can quote how many kids you’ve gotten into institutions, and I know that people find that to be important,” Alexander says. “And we do keep track of that. But it’s more important for us to chart the growth that we’re seeing in students; the transformations in students who have gone from thinking that they couldn’t get into college to walking empowered.”
In addition to her work with College Prep for Girls, Alexander is a consultant for others looking to build nonprofits. Service has always been at the core of who she is.
”My passion is to serve,” Alexander says. “When people talk about servant leaders, I feel that that’s who I am. I serve through the nonprofits that I work with; I serve through my church and through my community. My parents raised me to give and raised me to help look for a problem and try to solve it or, at least, contribute to the solution. I embrace service. I don’t run from it. I’d much rather give than receive. That’s just been my space for as long as I can remember. And so as long as I’m giving as long as I’m serving, I’m a happy camper.”