Insights, News

The Perfect Match – A Lesson from The College Advising Corps

Aug 27, 2014



Author: Rachel Martinez
Development Intern, GreenLight Fund

In September 2013, the GreenLight Fund supported the launch of the College Advising Corps in Boston. The College Advising Corps places well-trained, recent college graduates as full-time college advisers in the nation’s underserved high schools. Their mission is to provide support for high-need students throughout the college application process, serving as positive role models, while also helping foster a college-going culture. This fall, 16 advisers will serve in 15 Boston public high schools, as well as KIPP Lynn.

On my first day at GreenLight, I was lucky enough to sit in on a College Advising Corps (CAC) summer training session to prepare college advisers to work with local high school students this coming year.

The day’s session focused on helping high school seniors select colleges where they have the greatest likelihood of succeeding. I was particularly struck by the difference between helping students find a good “match” vs. “fit” when selecting a college. According to Jennifer Cox Bell, CAC director of programs and partnerships, and the session trainer, match is purely about a student’s academics, whereas fit involves assessing colleges based on many facets of a student’s life: income status, family commitments, extracurricular interests, to name just a few. CAC has a strong track record and deep expertise in helping students select colleges that are both good matches and fits for them. They help them consider many factors like financial aid offerings, location, graduation rate, extracurricular activities, and degree options in selecting a college.

One of the ways low-income, first generation students often select colleges that aren’t the best fit is by under-matching. Almost everyone in the room raised their hands when Cox Bell asked if we knew what “under-matching” meant. Sadly, many students, especially those from families with incomes in the lowest quartile, enroll in colleges for which they are overqualified. As a result, these students may feel unchallenged academically and may not get the support that other colleges could give, which significantly decreases their chances of graduating.

A large part of the afternoon’s training involved teaching the advisers about tools and strategies they will use to help students find colleges with the right fit for them. Cox Bell suggested that the advisers try an activity designed to help students visualize what they want in a college. The activity includes printing photos representing many aspects of college life, such as class size, setting, and campus culture. The adviser’s high school students would then stick post-it notes on the photos that appeal to them in each category. Although it seems simple, this is often a very effective activity, especially since many of the students are the first in their families to consider college and still may not believe that it is an option for them.

One of my favorite features of the day was hearing advisers tell stories from their own experiences. Most of the advisers are themselves are from low-income communities and were the first in their families to graduate from college. One adviser told us that the valedictorian of his class didn’t even attend college. As the son of immigrant parents, it was difficult for this student to navigate the college application process – even with a strong academic record. Unfortunately, he did not have the support of a college adviser who could have provided much-needed guidance about options, like applying for scholarships. Another adviser described her own experience at a university that “refused to let her drop out,” suggesting that if she had selected another university or under-matched she may have dropped out herself.

The highlight of the day was seeing the passion of the advisers to help students follow in their footsteps to and through college. During discussions of case studies of hypothetical students, the advisers were already strong advocates for these students, carefully considering how best to help each one and showing how hard and creatively they will work to ensure every senior in their high schools prepares for, applies to and selects a college where they can succeed.