As this recent article on the QuestBridge scholarship program points out, one of the biggest hurdles for low-income students in applying for colleges is that the application forms for financial aid are almost impossibly complex.
This innovative program improves the process–but not just by making the application simpler. Instead, it starts the year before most kids are applying to college, while they are still high school juniors, and contains a multi-year set of interventions that include mentoring and guidance which will enable the entire college application process to run more smoothly.
The system was devised on realizing that:
One, the complexity of the financial-aid process is scaring students away from college. . . .
Two, large amounts of well-meaning scholarship money — from private sources as well as from Washington and state governments — is fairly ineffectual. It helps many students who would graduate from college regardless, rather than those with the skills to graduate who are at risk of not doing so.
Three, not every problem created by inequality is fiendishly difficult to solve.
Perhaps most significantly, the students who succeed in matching with elite colleges through QuestBridge are guaranteed not just one year of funding, but four. And this promise that the funding is not at risk of disappearing halfway through the degree process seems the other crucial ingredient in enabling success.
The takeaway is not simply that there are promising students who are deterred by the combination of the expense of college and the difficulties of the application system itself. Instead, it seems, the most important thing to realize is that to enable promising students to succeed, it is imperative to identify them sooner, to provide practical assistance on getting through the application process, and to foster a longer-term sense that access to college dreams is not ephemeral. This last requires mentoring programs to complement the practical assistance with a combination of confidence building and role models who can help students realize their own potential