By Katie Ryu
In recent years, the college admissions process has become increasingly competitive, and the college application process has grown increasingly stressful. As a result, some families turn to pricey college advising services or enlist the help of college “strategists” whose fees can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. But many simply cannot afford to do so.
For those without easy access to such options, it may seem as though they are at an extra disadvantage, especially for first-generation or low-income students. This is why free college preparatory programs, or college prep programs, are so incredibly valuable. Although different programs offer varying means of support, college prep programs can provide quality college application guidance, financial support, scholarship help, test preparation, mentorship, and the resources needed to best navigate the college process.
Here is a list of free college prep programs that are aimed towards or can greatly benefit first-generation, low-income, and/or underrepresented high school students:
Formerly SCS Noonan Scholars, the renamed Thrive Scholars aims to “see talented low-income students of color develop the inter-generational wealth and financial security their more privileged peers take for granted, and become the diverse corporate, civic, and academic leaders our country so desperately needs.” This program offers six years of support that are directed towards college access, college success, and career development. Notably, Thrive Scholars has a trademark six-week Summer Academy that students participate in twice in the summers after their junior and senior years, taking college-level academic classes, receiving admissions counselling, and engaging in personal and professional development. Scholars also receive a new laptop and $500 stipend.
Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA) Scholars Program
Every year, LEDA recruits exceptional high school juniors who have shown themselves to be young leaders, but come from under-resourced backgrounds and potentially lack the support needed to thrive at the nation’s top schools. The LEDA Scholars Program consists of four-phases intended to provide that support: Recruitment & Admissions, “Aspects of Leadership” Summer Institute, College Guidance, and College Success. Their seven-week Summer Institute includes leadership training, writing classes, college guidance, test preparation, and more. LEDA Scholars also benefit from one-on-one college counselling, letters of recommendation, and college essay feedback in their senior year, and will continue to receive support in college and beyond.
QuestBridge College Prep Scholars
High school juniors can apply to become QuestBridge College Prep Scholars. The national non-profit QuestBridge looks for those “who have shown outstanding academic ability despite financial challenges.” As a College Prep Scholar, students can attend the QuestBridge National College Admissions Conference in the summer and receive specialized guidance on applying to college through the QuestBridge National College Match. Potential awards and benefits for scholars include full scholarships to college summer programs, $1,000 for a new laptop, and insights on college essays. The application deadline for juniors this year is March 24, 2021.
USC Bovard Scholars Program
This intensive program is administered by USC Bovard College and is directed towards high-achieving rising seniors who demonstrate financial need. Bovard Scholars participate in a three-week summer program at USC and continue to receive support in their senior year as they’re paired with a Bovard Scholars Admissions Coach. They receive personalized guidance and feedback regarding college, financial aid, and scholarship applications. Moreover, the USC Bovard Scholars Program puts an emphasis on career exploration, significantly through helping students with their individualized career profile and path.
The Riordan Scholars Program
Under the Riordan Scholars Program at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, college-bound high school students develop the skills necessary to be admitted to a top university and maintain a successful career path. These first-generation students are either rising sophomores, juniors, or seniors by the start of the program. Riordan Scholars participate in multiple monthly Saturday sessions to receive mentorship by current UCLA Anderson MBA students, guest lectures from leaders in corporate and academic communities, SAT prep workshops, leadership development seminars, personalized college counseling, and more. Prior experience or knowledge of business isn’t required, and the 2021-2022 Riordan Scholars Program application deadline is May 21, 2021.
College Track describes themselves as a college completion program that “equips students confronting systemic barriers to earn a bachelor’s degree, in pursuit of a life of opportunity, choice, and power.” It serves first generation students or low-income students. This is a 10-year program that spans from ninth grade through college graduation. College Track accepts applications through the spring for 8th grade recruitment and through the fall for high school freshman recruitment. Through this program, students gain academic, financial, and social support with 1:1 mentoring, college advising, programming sessions, and other benefits.
The Carleton Liberal Arts Experience (CLAE) Program
The CLAE Program is a week-long summer academic program for rising juniors, taking place in the summer between sophomore and junior year. They encourage students interested in African American culture, particularly students from the African diaspora, to apply. Applicants must be college-bound high school students who are sophomores at the time of their application. CLAE Scholars learn about the liberal arts college education and its merits, and they focus on African American community, taking courses like “Religion and the Black Freedom Struggle.” CLAE also provides preparation, guidance, and workshops for the college search and application process. The 2021 program will be held online. Applications are due on April 4, 2021.
Princeton Summer Journalism Program (PSJP)
During this summer program, high school juniors from low-income backgrounds who are interested in journalism are able to “explore current events and world affairs through workshops and lectures led by Princeton professors, professional journalists, and alumni.” PSJP participants engage in critical discussions, weekly readings, and distinctive activities to develop their skills as journalists. They’re also able to attend sessions with representatives of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. During the last week of the program, students meet with college admissions representatives and attend seminars tackling the multiple aspects of the college admissions process. The program staff continues to aid students with their college application process during their senior year.
MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC)
The six-month MOSTEC program serves rising high school seniors with a passion for science, technology, engineering, and math. Many of its students come from underrepresented or underserved communities, and students with such backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply. MOSTEC consists of three phases. In the Academic Phase, students complete two online courses and projects with instructor support. Then, they attend the five-day MOSTEC Conference and present their projects. In the Enrichment Phase, students interact with faculty, researchers, and professionals over webinars and Q&A sessions. Students are also able to ask admissions and financial aid-related questions in the Admissions Corner, which is run by MIT Admissions counselors.