Targeting First-generation College Candidates

  • Education
  • 1994

There are many students with high academic potential growing up in families that lack the means or confidence to steer their child toward a top college. Of the 30,000 low-income students who score at least 1300 on the SAT every year, only one out of five apply to even a single selective college. Over the last generation, a bevy of philanthropic organizations has grown up to identify these high-potential students, show them how to apply to elite institutions, and help them succeed once enrolled.

One of the older and larger examples is QuestBridge, founded in 1994 in the Bay Area as an outgrowth of one-to-one mentoring that a University of California, San Francisco medical student and his friends were offering to local low-income students. The program grew quickly and now offers a variety of summer programs, campus visits, application-counseling, and ultimately four-year full scholarships for students who are matched to 35 participating colleges like Stanford, Harvard, Emory, Rice, and Columbia. Yale, for instance, had about 200 QuestBridge scholars on campus in 2014, with plans to take even more in the future.

QuestBridge prepares about 3,000 students each year, mostly first-in-the-family-to-college, then matches the top 500 to an admission with a full scholarship at one of its partner colleges. “It’s like a national admissions office” for capable students who would otherwise never show up on top campuses, summarizes Vassar College president Catharine Bond Hill.

Other nonprofit programs like Posse (see 1989 entry nearby), the Daniels Scholars, the Opportunity Network, and the Gates Millennium Scholars (see 1999 entry) provide similar services. There are also many programs run by specific colleges or companies that target students in their local area. Most of these combine counseling, summer boot camps, large scholarships, mentoring, and internships (made available by thousands of companies). Donors are legion, from the Daniels Fund to the Packard, Hewlett, George Roberts, Charles Hayden, and Hecksher foundations, among many others.