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Time to Inspire

Joseph McNiff (BSBA’14) on his big idea: getting more kids into college.

When Joseph McNiff was accepted by Boston University, he was surprised by how the news affected a middle school boy he was tutoring in an inner-city school in greater Boston. This young student was gifted, says McNiff, but was “a little bit of a troublemaker” and had never given much thought to attending college. But after McNiff shared his good news, his tutee bought a BU sweatshirt and said he wanted to focus on his grades and apply to college someday.

That experience helped inspire McNiff to found the nonprofit College AppAssist with a group of fellow BU students. The program, which launched from Boston’s Brighton High School in February 2013, pairs SMG students with high schoolers for college research and application assistance during their junior and senior years. It aims to raise college acceptance rates among those who, due to challenges of finances or time, could not otherwise apply to four-year schools.

McNiff, a member of the SMG Honors Program who’s interned with companies including Merrill Lynch and Citigroup, hopes to expand College AppAssist to other high schools and universities. The program distinguishes itself from similar initiatives, he says, by closeness in age between its mentors and mentees, and by aiming to establish lifelong mentoring relationships “so that not only are we helping kids get into college, we’re making sure that they graduate on time and that they make the right financial decisions.”

You can help SMG students launch their big ideas by becoming an alumni mentor at