Even before the pandemic, class of 2021 graduate Daniela Andrade knew she’d need to navigate the path to college without a lot of high school supports.
Andrade’s high school near the border of Queens and Long Island in New York City serves a high number of low-income Black and Latino and English-language-learner students, and Andrade started her own college-going club in junior year, before the pandemic, where about 30 students helped each other navigate the college-application and financial-aid process.
“My junior year, around April, we had a college interview with our counselor,” she said. “Every junior had one where we like talked about our options, what was in our range and, yeah, that’s pretty much it. And they gave us a large booklet with information, but I just feel like the way they did it was just so old school that they definitely weren’t helping students just handing students a book.”
In contrast, the club met weekly on their own to go over various parts of college applications and essays, ways to find scholarships, and other college-going issues.
During her senior year, peer supports became both more crucial and a heavier lift. Five of Andrade’s family members and two close family friends died from COVID-19, while several family members lost businesses in Manhattan as a result of the pandemic’s closures and economic disruption. While neither of her parents had gone through the experience of attending college, her family and club members helped connect her the nonprofit CollegePoint, a virtual mentoring program that helped her to work through applications and scholarships—eventually pulling together several to pay for both tuition and housing at Harvard University, where she entered this fall to study neuroscience with an eye toward medical school and public health.
“I feel like COVID-19 was an eye-opener to just how vulnerable people can be and how it was rough,” Andrade said. “This year has been extremely difficult, but I definitely feel like we’re doing the best we can.”
Part of that has meant keeping in touch with her high school college club to talk about her college transition and provide mentoring support for her peers still trying to navigate the college-application process. Last year, when her high school operated often in virtual or hybrid mode to control the risk of outbreaks there was no in-person teacher adviser, the college group continued to operate only as an unofficial school club. Only about half the previous students continued to work together online.
While she said she thinks it’s helpful for students to learn how to advocate for themselves and their own higher education plans, she wishes high schools and colleges worked together to provide more holistic guidance for first-generation students. She has continued to support her high school club, including offering some lectures on college applications and transitions in her native Spanish.
Andrade said she hopes college-going clubs can provide “an inclusive environment for all students, because I definitely see that Hispanic students in society face generally low expectations [for college.] That language barrier just makes it worse,” she said.
Coverage of the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need is supported in part by a grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, at www.jkcf.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the October 27, 2021 edition of Education Week as 2021 Grad Builds Peer Support for College Planning