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Teens to Know

This Jewish Teen Is Trying to Make College Accessible to Everyone

Daniel Zahn Cropped Headshot

It was a sunny weekend afternoon, and Daniel Zahn – aged 19 at the time – didn’t need to be inside studying. But, as he looked at the heads bowed in concentration and heard the tapping of computer keyboards, he knew he was right where he belonged.

A little over a year ago, Daniel co-launched F.O.R.M Consulting, which stands for Future Opportunities Reached by Mentorship. Through F.O.R.M., Daniel conducts essay-writing seminars and pairs college student-mentors with prospective students from underserved communities. Mentees get feedback on their writing and learn about scholarship opportunities.

So far, F.O.R.M Consulting has impacted more than 100 students who once felt they couldn’t get through the college application process — whether because of socioeconomic status, access to a mentor, or myriad other reasons.

But Daniel is changing that disparity one personal essay at a time. And for his dedication, Daniel is a 2018 recipient of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards.

We talked with Daniel just after he finished his second year at Penn State University.

What’s your favorite book of all time?

Usually, it’s the last thing I read. It’s hard for me to pick just one book as my favorite since I love so many for a lot of different reasons. I will say that the first book that significantly impacted me was Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth. It centers around an 11-year-old Indian boy who gets abducted into a sweatshop. I think it had such a profound impact on me because it was one of the first books I read that broke me out of my solidified worldview.

What is your favorite thing to do with a free afternoon?

It really depends on my mood. Usually, I love just hanging out, talking with friends, and playing a board or card game.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I’m torn between replication and shape-shifting. They both have so many positives, but I think I’d have to go with replication — if it came with certain conditions, i.e. being able to clone myself as many times as I would like, and have all the lived experiences and knowledge of each clone. Then, I would be able to do so many things and be able to make a real impact while other clones can read, sleep, eat, and stay healthy. Then, we can all come back together into one Daniel.

That’s a great plan. And tell me about your college application process?

If I had to give you just one word, it would be stressful. I had two older siblings go through the process, so I thought I knew a little bit about what was going to happen. I was wrong. The essays, questions, and decisions I had to make were overwhelming. I applied to more than 10 schools and to a bunch of scholarships. I was fortunate to have family and teachers to support me along the way; I couldn’t imagine going through the process alone.

Can you tell me about that first moment when you realized there was a way to help other people going through this process?

I was eating lunch with my friend and future co-founder, Cory Steinle. He brought up the idea of starting some sort of organization to help underprivileged kids go through the application process. And I just loved his idea. The ability to harness what current college students already know about the application process and use that knowledge to help others seemed amazing.

How do you recruit your mentors?

Most of our first mentors were our close friends, people we knew would work hard and who cared about the mission. Since then, we’ve expanded, mostly attracting education majors and we’re working on building a bigger, more diverse set of mentors to accommodate the growth we’ve seen in our partnering schools.

What has your college experience been like so far?

My college is like a never-ending infomercial where they’re selling everything you’ve ever wanted for free — the only catch is the finite amount of time you have. I’ve found college to be a wonderful place where I can pursue so many things that I enjoy, both in and out of the classroom. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that the experience hasn’t also brought a handful of stress and countless mistakes. It really lets you be in control of your time and on what you’ll spend it.

And what’s next for the F.O.R.M. campaign?

We’re working to improve our system and partner with more schools. On a larger scale, we are also looking at expanding to other universities, getting funding, seeking partnerships, and growing F.O.R.M. to be a national success.

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