Why Pre-College Programs Work For Kids From Under Resourced Communities

By Robert W. Andrews

During the fall of 2008, a college representative from Williams along with colleagues from Amherst, Wesleyan, Middlebury and Wellesley visited our program. It was their first visit to the Schuler Scholar Program; prior to their arrival none of our scholars applied or matriculated to these schools. It was a leap of faith for these schools to make the trek up to Waukegan High School, well outside of their usual Chicago recruiting byway. I remember feeling elated upon their arrival; I was determined to speak with each school individually about our program and uncover why they were intrigued to meet our scholars.

The representative from Williams College said something decisive; it has become a guiding principal over the years that distinguish Schuler Scholars from others with respect to college matriculation. The representative stated that the greatest struggle his college faced with diversity recruitment was retention. He noted that what interested him most in our scholars was their prior experience away from home, studying at a summer college program on a college campus. The experience, he added, made our scholars better prepared for the transition to college life. I realized how significant pre-college programs can be for first generation, low income applicants; an indispensable life experience that will aid them in the college admissions process.

After working with our scholars for more than four years, I concur with the representative from Williams College. The Summer College Program experience is one of the defining moments for our scholars. It allows college to become a reality. Scholars are exposed to new ideas, new peer groups, and college level coursework. They come home with a new sense of purpose and confidence that is unmatched by almost any other aspect of our program. Pre-college programs push scholars to broaden their worldview and life perspectives.

Jocelyn Santiago (Waukegan High School ’13) illustrates this point beautifully when reflecting on her experience this summer at the Kenyon College’s Young Writer’s Workshop this summer.

“There is a certain level of idealism that goes into the small liberal arts college experience. What we're told is that we'll be surrounded by passionate lovers of learning. Our new peers will be from all different walks of life and hopefully become family that we will be in contact with long after our 4 years of  college. We are also told that we will have incredible teachers, far more amazing than those in our current high schools.

Going to the Kenyon Review's Young Writers program has made all of this more than just a fantasy. It made it a completely feasible reality – almost a guarantee of sorts. At Kenyon, I fell in love with every student. I was impressed by their abilities and even more so by their complete commitment to immersing themselves into the program. I was made confident in my own abilities by the environment. I couldn’t help but be lifted up. We were all selected for being good at what we do and it showed. No longer was I one of a few, but now part of the majority of kids interested in learning and growing.

In addition, there was support in every direction. In fact, it was nearly impossible to find someone who was not more than willing to lend an ear and give feedback on work. I indeed left with an extended family from all over the world. All one hundred and four of us are bound together by our experience at Kenyon. We have shared so much of ourselves in those two weeks that it is unrealistic to believe that we won't make an effort to see each other again. As for the staff, I have only one word: AWESOME. Each of our teachers wrote and shared with us. Each of them was an incredibly hard working and impressive writer.  It was an experience designed by incredible people for incredible people. It is everything I could have ever hoped for and it was a reassurance that my pursuit of that special liberal arts college experience will be worthwhile.” 

To hear more reflections on our Scholar’s Summer College Program experiences check out the links below to video clips:

Erik Campos, (Round Lake High School ’13) participated in Skidmore College’s Pre-College Program

Daniel Ocampo (Highland Park High School ’13) participated in the Johns Hopkins Engineering Innovations

I’mani Sellers (Waukegan High School ’13) participated in Brown University’s Pre College Program

Amy Valencia (Warren Township High School ’13) participated in Washington University’s Pre-Med Institute

These video clips were taken at our annual Summer College Program event in November during which we host representatives from summer programs across the country. To learn more about our Summer College Program Event and how Summer College Programs partner with the Schuler Scholar program, email Kim Michelson, Summer College Program Manager, at kim@schulerprogram.org


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