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BOISE -- Starting the college application process can be really overwhelming for students and parents. So, where do you begin? A local nonprofit is helping kids get a step ahead on those college applications, free of charge.

Six local mothers started Step Ahead Idaho two years ago. Shirley O'Neil is the ring leader.

We came together, all of us have kids and we have all had kids go on to college, said O'Neil. It's a steep learning curve, I'll tell you that.

I had been volunteering in the schools for years, and had worked through the application process with two of my own kids, said Sue Lovelace, Step Ahead Idaho.

We realized that college is an overwhelming process and can be daunting, even for the most savvy parents, explained O'Neil.

Over the past two years, these women have become what you could call college specialists.

We love working with kids. We love seeing that we can take something that is a very complex process and break it down into pieces that are manageable for each kid, said O'Neil.

The best part is this drop-in center is free of charge. That's a big bonus for Madison Szathmary, a senior at Boise High School.

You just have to go in with a clear head, and they will guide you through the whole process, said Madison.

With the help of Step Ahead Idaho, Madison has applied to eight schools. Now she is just waiting to hear back.

Madison's dad, Lou, says these ladies were a huge help to their family.

Looking at different colleges, zeroing in on where she wanted to go, said Lou Szathmary. Just having a plan and a time line.

Each one of us separately got the chance to work with her, said O'Neil. Just to be able to read over her essays. It's such an honor really for these kids to trust you with their life stories and their essays.

O'Neil has big plans for this nonprofit.

Our vision would be to have something like this all across the state, she said.

Helping kids like Madison get a step ahead on college and on their futures.

I feel like if I didn't have Step Ahead, it would have been very overwhelming and stressful, said Madison. You sit down, get it done, it's free, and it's fun.

The Step Ahead Idaho drop-in center is located in the downtown Boise YMCA. It is open every Wednesday and Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Step Ahead Idaho is also working with the Idaho Education Network to provide online seminars to high schoolers in rural areas.

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