As anyone who works with low income, first generation or underrepresented students could tell you, the vast majority of these students lack not only the funds to compete with the 1% but also the “social capital” that greases the wheels of higher education access. Networks of chatty parents sharing new discoveries about demonstrated interest, hooks, gap years, PPY, ED/EDII/EA/EAII/REA, supplemental essays, recommended (not really) tests, super-scoring, super-duper-scoring, test optional/flexible, and a host of other insider secrets help the most informed more easily navigate an increasingly complex system.

Unlike their rich counterparts, low-income parents do not have the opportunities to learn the intricacies of admissions to feeder middle schools, selective high schools, and highly selective colleges and graduate schools from a social circle that includes deans of admissions, board members, CEOs, and college presidents. Instead, first generation parents rely on objective sources (catalogues and webpages), their next door neighbors (who are likely also first generation, low income, and underrepresented), their school counselors, and their friends to pool the little information they have in hopes of hitting the access lotto and gaining a spot at a selective institution.

One effective way to combat this problem has been the community-based or non-profit organization. CBOs and NPOs have taken on the work of supporting the most disadvantaged students in our society and providing them the support, information, and guidance that many of their richer counterparts are getting at their private schools, quintillions, and country clubs. Community-based organizations are providing networks of educational, emotional, social, and fiscal support that are helping many under-resourced families reduce the number of barriers (reduce not eliminate since no community-based organization has solved systemic racism) that many families face. These programs help develop the talent that many low income students have but often remain underdeveloped because of circumstances. These programs provide the coaching and mentorship that many low income students need to fully participate in the educational system.

These educational access programs run the gamut in size, intensity, duration, and educational level. Programs like MLT’s MBA Prep and A Better Chance are best characterized as application assistance programs since their primary function is to help students navigate the application process. Other programs like The Wight Foundation’s STEPREACH PrepESPI’s City Smart Scholars, and CLEO are preparation programs providing academic enrichment, test preparation, application assistance, and alumni support. Programs such as Bottom Line and KIPP Through College are success programs, which provide support for students to complete college. Some programs, such as The Consortium for Graduate Study in ManagementThe Posse Foundation, and Questbridge, focus on securing scholarships and providing networking among their scholars in order to help overcome the financial and social capital divide. The quality and scope of services by the programs often are comparable to (if not better than) programs for which some families will pay tens of thousands of dollars.

For first-generation, low income, or underrepresented students these programs often provide a pipeline of support and resources that they cannot get elsewhere.

Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive database of such programs (though there are a few local or partial ones) making it difficult for a family to easily discover and apply to all the right programs in a timely fashion. However, here are a few different ways you can search for a program that serve your needs:

  • This pdf, created by Prep for Prep, of educational access organizations around the country is a great start.
  • This searchable database of college access organizations is maintained by the National Association of College Access Counselors.
  • The National College Access Network membership list is also a great place to search for such organizations.
  • NPEA membership list is another way to find out some of the organizations doing this work.
  • This list by the Coalition for College Access is not comprehensive but it should help.

For those seeking assistance getting into graduate programs, it’s a bit more difficult since I’ve not found even partial databases or lists. Here are a few organizations to investigate:

PhDs programs: The PhD ProjectMellon Mays Foundation, PhD Pipeline

Business school: Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Toigo Foundation, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, Riordan MBA FellowsThe Forte Foundation

Law school: Discover Law, CLEORonald H. Brown Law School Prep ProgramDiversity Pre-Law ConferencePLUS ProgramsUHLC Pre-Law Pipeline Program

Additional reading:

PBS Newshour on Nonprofit access organizations (article)- Link

Peter Sachs Tearing Down the Gates (book)- Link

Paper on Social Capital (PDF) – Link

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