Tagged: first generation students

College Access & Success For Underserved Students

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Brookings Graphicrecent report out of Colorado included this graphic from The Brookings Institution. Take a good look at it and you’ll notice that a college graduate born in the lowest income quintile is, at 20%, more likely to be in the top income quintile than to remain in the very lowest quintile. Likewise, a New York Times article, asking the question, “Is college worth it?”, firmly concludes: Yes, college is worth it, and it’s not even close. For all the struggles that many young college graduates face, a four-year degree has probably never been more valuable. 

Not that a college education is only about future earning power. A great deal of research has also considered more “fuzzy” indicators, like happiness and well-being, along with such factors as health status and employment satisfaction among college graduates. You can guess what the majority of these findings show, and it’s summed up well by the mere title of this piece from The Huffington Post – “Want To Be Happier And Healthier? Then Go To College.”

All of the above being as it is, it’s a sad state of affairs that large gaps exist in the college access and success prospects of different groups of students. Underserved students (e.g. minorities, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and/or first-generation students), in particular, would greatly benefit from having access to high-quality guidance during the college admissions process, and yet many are never given the opportunity to take advantage of this type of support. Why? Some of the most common barriers to college access among underserved student groups include an information gap, low expectations, and negative stereotypes. However, other barriers to college enrollment may also be tied to logistic challenges, such as not living in geographic proximity to four-year colleges or having other responsibilities (e.g. taking care of family members) that students may feel put them out of the running for an undergraduate education.

Our advice for school counselors, teachers, and administrators who work with underserved students?

  • Work to close the information gap! For instance, make sure that students are aware of fly-in programs; the FAFSAPell Grants; scholarship opportunities; the Federal Work-Study Programimportant dates; the College Scorecard; college application fee waivers; the list of over 800 colleges and universities that are now test-optionaladmissions options (in terms of applying early decision, early action, regular admissions, or rolling admissions); useful websites; and the fact that many schools have support programs in place for underserved students, like Wellesley College’s WellesleyPlus program and MIT’s First Generation Program.
  • As was noted in this article from The Atlantic, “The reality of it is that a lot of low-income kids could be going to elite universities on a full ride and don’t even realize it.” College could be more affordable than students suspect! Along these lines, ensure that students and their families consider a college’s net price (and not the sticker price) when thinking about where to apply – a great tool for this is Pell Abacus! For example: Net Price Examples
  • In thinking about putting together a college list, also make sure that your students are aware of prospective colleges’ graduation rates. Schools with higher graduation rates, in general, do more to support their students as they progress towards that crucial graduation day finish line!
  • Take advantage of some of the incredibly useful resources that are out there and at your disposal. For example, in helping students to develop a robust and well-balanced college list, you can use Admitster’s free (and very cool) online College List Builder tool!
  • Know that The New York Times publishes an annual College Access Index, which is “a measure of top colleges’ commitment to lower-income students – defined by the economic diversity of the student body, the price that colleges charge, and their graduation rates.” You can find the most recent list by clicking here.
  • Tune into the many wonderful organizations out there that are working to promote college access for underserved students, including QuestBridgeReach HigherCollege SummitCollege Possible, and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
  • Stay abreast of news and developments in the dynamic worlds of college admissions and higher education, for example, the 2014 release of the White House’s Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students report, the work of the Coalition for Access, Affordability & Success, and the recently released Turning The Tide report. A great way to stay tuned in to developments is through such organizations as Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education!
  • Encourage college representatives to visit your high school, such as through the organization of a college fair, helping to create a school culture in which the idea of going to college is viewed as a viable post-high school next step. Along these lines, help students to decide which of the Common Application essay prompts to write about, hang college banners on the school walls, and support students in the discovery of new colleges and universities that they perhaps have never before considered. In short, take little steps that collectively help to create a college-going culture in your school.
  • You can also organize college admissions and financial planning information sessions for parents. A step such as this shows that you have high collegiate expectations for your students and also helps families to see college as an achievable goal.
  • Encourage students to challenge themselves academically, for instance, through enrollment in Advanced Placement courses. If your school doesn’t offer AP courses, or offers only a few select AP options, know that students can also take AP courses online.  Some examples of organizations that offer online courses include Apex Learning Virtual SchoolThe Virtual High SchoolThe Keystone School, the National University Virtual High School, and Virtual High School. Furthermore, some colleges and universities offer online AP courses, for instance, the University of California and Northwestern University.
  • Another great strategy is to set up a mentor program in your school. One option is to encourage alumni who are currently in college or who have graduated from college to pair with current high school students, aiding them by sharing insights and lessons drawn from personal experience on the college journey. You can also consider mentor programs outside of your school, for instance, mentor2.0, a “Big Brothers Big Sisters’ technology-enriched, emailed supported, one-to-one youth mentoring program”, or Strive For College.
  • Finally, consider working with Admitster’s school partnership program, Partnership For College Success, to ensure college coaching for every student at your school, and starting as early as the 9th grade. Through this program, our experts work side-by-side with you to assure that your students and families have access to personalized and comprehensive college admissions guidance, including accurate and timely information and sustained support throughout the process.

Through collaborative, all-hands-on-deck initiatives, we can make real progress towards securing college access and success for all students.

Dear First Generation Students, You Got This!

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Today we’re thrilled to welcome back Mr. Lawrence Alexander, who is not only the Director of College Admissions at The Ivy Key and the Director of College Counseling at The White Mountain School, but who is also a proud first generation college student. 

As a college counselor who is also a first generation college student, I am ever cognizant of the treasure I’ve been entrusted with. I counsel my students with an appreciation for the path they’re taking because it’s the same path I traveled. I was born and raised in New Jersey by working parents whose retirement plan was to ensure that my sister and I received the best education possible. I pen this blog post today for first generation college applicants, their guidance counselors and teachers, and for those parents who are mortgaging hope in the education of their children.

The college admissions process is hard, yes, and sometimes you might lose your way in the maze of deadlines, test prep, essay writing, extracurricular activities, financial aid terms, recommendation letters, and campus tours…but YOU GOT THIS!

Final Final Maze
1. Students – Start EARLY. Every student entering high school should be developing a post-secondary plan. For those students who see college as a part of that plan, you should be pitching a tent in the office of your guidance or college counselor and seeking out opportunities to distinguish yourself from your peers. The latter can come in the form of student leadership initiatives, employment, or participation in summer enrichment or pre-collegiate programs, to name but a few examples. As early as 9th grade, students should be working to excel both inside and outside of the classroom. Many colleges and universities employ a holistic philosophy when reviewing a student’s application. That is, they want to know how you performed in the classroom and on standardized tests BUT they also want to know what impact you’ve made in your school and community. Start that process right away!

2. Parents – Start EARLY. College tuition is expensive, I know, and it’s going to cost you more if you fail to devise an admissions strategy early. Working with your student’s school and/or organizations like Admitster can help you to improve your student’s prospects for both admission to financially supportive schools and for scholarship opportunities, helping to reduce your out-of-pocket cost. You should also work with your school counselor to assess your family income and your expected family contribution. Having a clearer understanding of your family’s financial situation, along with knowledge of prospective schools’ net prices, can help you to start building a robust college list with your son/daughter – and the earlier you’re able to make these assessments, the less stressful the process will be. Students will be upset if the family finances are a secret that hamstrings their college attendance once it’s too late to explore viable alternatives. In other words, be prepared to help your student tackle the financial considerations that are so crucial to the college admissions journey!

3. School-Based Staff & Counselors – Start EARLY. As you assess your school’s capacity to serve the college counseling needs of your students (particularly your first generation and/or lower-income students), seek out reliable college access partners like Admitster to work alongside your existing guidance program. I have partnered with many organizations to develop longitudinal and scaffolded grades 9 – 12 college advisory programs, empowering schools to develop the college-going culture to which they aspire. First-generation college applicants often need more direct support with the rudiments of their applications (e.g. essay writing, college list creation, and financial aid counseling). Resources in schools are often scarce and budgets often have allocations beyond the reach of the building leaders. All of that notwithstanding, where you do have the resources, why not devote them to ensuring the post-secondary success of your students?

Some recommended resources:
1. For families who are new to the FAFSA, click here.
2. This is a great list of colleges that meet 100% of student-demonstrated need.
3. Useful online resources to help students on the path to college are only a click away!

In closing, first-generation college goers are often defined by what they lack, but they HAVE SO MUCH. If students possess the right mindset, if parents invest time and energy early in the process, and if schools invest in the right resources at the right time, you’ll form a college-going army that can’t be stopped.

You GOT this!

Yours in Partnership,

Lawrence Q. Alexander II


p.s – My mother never let me keep my Bachelor’s degree; it’s still on the living room wall in her home. Whenever I ask for it she says, “You just got the degree, I did all the work!” I think I better let her keep it 🙂

Those Dreams Can Be A Reality

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I was recently reading an article from The Hechinger Report on supports available to first generation students at four year colleges in the United States. The author cited one statistic, in particular, that jumped out at me: Though first generation students are “hardly well represented at competitive four-year institutions…Franklin & Marshall, where some 17% of this year’s freshmen class are first generation students, expects 87 percent will graduate within six years – the same as the general population.” Very cool! I decided to learn more about the ways in which F&M College is invested in helping first generation students to succeed.

In clicking my way around their website, I came across a page outlining F&M’s “Strategic Priorities”, one of which is to “Recruit Extraordinary Student Talent.” Readers, you’ll be happy to know that in working to reach that goal, F&M College has significantly increased the resources available for their need-based financial aid program and they meet the full demonstrated need of all their students. The college has also been working on building relationships with “high-performing school networks, rural schools, and college access programs serving underrepresented students.” Furthermore, and of particular note, is that back in 2011, F&M started a new initiative called the F&M College Prep Program, which is meant to address the issue of undermatching. “What’s undermatching?”, you ask? Excellent question!  Dr. Daniel Porterfield, President of F&M College, answers it well, saying:

“If you read the headlines of every major newspaper in America over the past two years, you see the persistent theme of the nation’s undermatching crisis, which is when students don’t apply to the great schools for which their SAT scores and their grades have qualified them for admission.”

“And how does the F&M College Prep program help to address this issue?” Another great question! The short answer is that the program helps to build students’ confidence, especially in terms of what they believe they can achieve academically. The longer answer comes to us in the form of a great video, in which we learn:

“F&M College Prep is a three week summer immersion program that brings together rising high school seniors from all over the country. They take classes with F&M faculty members and they do college-level work, and that confidence allows them to really push the bounds of what they think they can do. 100% of the F&M College Prep graduates have been accepted into college.”



To learn more about how the F&M College Prep program “revs the engines of the college-bound”, click on this link, and to read about the college’s “points of pride” regarding their Next Generation Initiative (of which F&M College Prep is a part), click here. One of the F&M College Prep program participants is quoted in the aforementioned video as saying, “F&M College Prep really helped me to see that those (college) dreams can be a reality.”  I would imagine that helping to turn students’ dreams into reality is something of which Franklin & Marshall College is most proud!

First Time’s A Charm

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Backtoschool2U.S. News & World Report recently published an interesting article on the topic of preparing for college as a first generation student, i.e. a student whose parents have little or no college experience.  As the author writes, “…families will have to pursue opportunities in their communities, high schools, and prospective colleges to increase the likelihood of student success.”  Remember, a key measure of student success is not college enrollment but rather graduation from college, and graduation rate data should figure prominently in everyone’s “applying to college” folder, especially for first generation students.  Why?  Because graduation rates indicate a college’s investment in its students (click here for more information on graduation rates).

There are many colleges and universities that provide excellent support services for first generation students (for instance, see herehere, and here), but today I want to turn your attention to Wellesley College, which graduates over 90% of its students within six years.  The college has an initiative in place called the WellesleyPlus program, and each year about 10% of the incoming class (primarily first generation students) are invited to participate.  Joining the program is purely voluntary but there are great benefits to accepting the offer, including participation in a Success Seminar (covering topics such as “setting good goals for college, learning and teaching styles, time management, using the college’s electronic resources, reading and study strategies, working with faculty members, and preparing for exams”), working closely with an advising team, an annual half-day retreat to reflect on campus experiences, and a winter workshop focusing on career plans.  Furthermore, the college can boast of a First Generation Network, which aims to link first generation students to others in the college community – a strong network means a great deal of support and should be viewed as a real asset to any institution of higher learning!

On a final note, know that there are many support services out there for first generation students. As the tip of the iceberg, consider the U.S. Department of Education’s Upward Bound program, the goal of which “is to increase the rate at which participants (high school students from low-income families and/or from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree) complete secondary education and enroll in and graduate from institutions of post-secondary education.”  Do your research, take advantage of the opportunities that are out there and, well, first time’s a charm!