How advisors are keeping college access on track

Coalition finds alternative ways to connect students with their top-choice colleges and universities

Advisors from a coalition of organizations working to increase access to higher education say they’re redoubling efforts to keep high school seniors and juniors on track toward college enrollment amidst the uncertainties of coronavirus.

With campuses not allowing students to visit, virtual advisors from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ CollegePoint coalition are finding alternative ways to connect prospective students with their top-choice colleges and universities.

The advisors, whose services are free, are arranging for high school seniors and juniors to have conversations with faculty, student life staff, and college students with similar majors and academic interests, says Nicholas Watson, the CollegePoint lead at Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The coalition’s mission is to enroll high-achieving first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students in highly selective colleges and universities, Watson says.

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Diana Wynne, an advisor from ScholarMatch (one of the four organizations in the coalition), guided Chicago-area high school senior Penelope Alegria through the application process and her eventual decision to enroll in Harvard University in the fall.

“I figured I would apply to a state school and be done with that,” says Alegria, the 2019-2020 Chicago Youth Poet Laureate. “I remember feeling really scared and really overwhelmed. I wanted a lot of things but I didn’t know how to get there.”

Advising alliance

CollegePoint comprises four organizations:

One of the priorities of the coalition’s advisors is to show students that, with scholarships and other financial assistance, highly selective colleges can often be cheaper to attend than, for example, public flagships in other states, Wynne says.

Wynne helps high school students make connections with alumni and current college students. She can also help high school seniors find and negotiate financial aid packages.

Wynne and Alegria have been working together since spring 2019. “It was really comforting to know there was somebody out there who believed in me and who could guide me whenever I felt shaky,” Alegria says.

Advising for enrollment access

With unemployment surging and family members coping with layoffs, some high school seniors have found they will need more financial aid than they originally estimated, Watson says.

These students may be changing their minds in favor of less-selective public institutions that are closer to home and that offer a lower tuition price, he adds.

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“Our advisors can have those nuanced conversations where students might see a sticker price that looks less but then the data shows it might cost more because it will take them longer to graduate,” Watson says. “In reality, it might be cheaper to attend a school with a higher sticker price and a higher graduation rate.”

High school juniors at the beginning of their college searches are facing more uncertainty because, among other disruptions, they haven’t been able to take SATs and ACTs.

“Our advisors are talking to juniors about not putting college on hold,” Watson says. “They’re sticking to the message that this is a short-term thing that students who are academically talented should still choose the best college.”

UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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