Applying to college can be a complex process. This is especially true for low-income and first-generation students, who often don’t have family members to guide them through the process. In fact, nearly one in four high-achieving, low-income students apply to college without any help at all, according to a 2017 report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
Previous research has found that low-income and minority students are more likely to attend less-selective colleges than they could have. Students who undermatch are significantly less likely to graduate than their peers who don’t, according to a report from the University of Buffalo.
High-achieving, low-income students who lack a college-educated network are often unaware of the college options available to them or feel constrained by their financial situations. Some simply undervalue their potential.
To help students avoid undermatching, CollegePoint, a program funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, connects high-achieving, low-income students with virtual advisors though computers or cellphones. The advisors wear many hats. They answer students’ questions and dispel common college myths at no cost, one advisor told Elissa Nadworny at NPR.
Perhaps most importantly, the virtual advisors help students parse their financial aid awards. “For a big chunk of my job, I feel like a financial adviser,” says Katie Nakhle. Financial aid award letters have jargon that’s notoriously hard to understand. For McKenna Hensley, a high school senior in Ohio, Nakhle compiled each of Hensley’s financials aid award letters and a breakdown of her college expenses into a spreadsheet. After Hensley analyzed the spreadsheet, she found an option where she paid nothing.
Advisors also help students understand that financial aid doesn’t necessarily dictate which school will ultimately be the best fit. Like many low-income students, Justice Benjamin felt compelled to attend whichever college offered the most money, he told NPR. But after his advisor encouraged him to think about his ideal learning experience and college preferences, Benjamin realized that he had more say in the matter.
For other students, advisors offer a positive sounding board during the stressful admissions process. Johnny Dang, a high school senior in Texas, told NPR it was reassuring to “have a person say, like, yes you are doing this correctly” (Nadworny, NPR, 6/19/18).