Volunteer as a College Mentor
Despite the rising number of high school graduates and the massive expansion of federal and institutional financial aid, the percentage of low-income students enrolling in college has dropped dramatically in the last decade. Since 2008 Pell grant funding has increased by 74 percent and universities have increased their contributions by 50 percent, yet low-income college enrollment has dropped by ten percentage points.
When we look at the nation's top colleges we see the dramatic difference in enrollment between students from the top and bottom income brackets. The more selective a university is, the smaller their share of low-income students. While community colleges tend to have an equal distribution of students across income levels, at the nation's most selective schools, 72 percent of students come from high-income families while only 3 percent come from the nation's lowest economic quartile.
Not only are low-income students less likely to apply to college than more affluent students, they are far more likely to undermatch, or attend colleges below their academic potential. High-achieving, high-income students are twice as likely to apply to the country's most selective schools as their low-income peers. Why? Researches have found the clearest reasons are students' lack of information about financial aid and an absence of mentorship through the application process. For example, even though highly selective schools give the most money in grants, making them more affordable for low-income students, most won't even apply because they assume an Ivy League education is too expensive.
The good news is that college mentoring has been proven to substantially improve students' college application and enrollment rates. Basic information about how financial aid works, the availability of application fee waivers, and reminders about due dates make a big difference. Since most of our students are first generation college and attend high schools with approximately 500 students to every 1 college counselor, there is a mentorship gap that needs filling.
What does it take to mentor a student?
FAFSA? Pell Grants? Common App Fee Waivers? You may worry that you don't have the insider knowledge to help students in need of college mentorship. But you don't need a degree in counseling to make a profound difference in a student's life. All you need is time, drive, and strong writing skills.
We ask our mentors to commit up to 4 hours a week with their students from late September through the end of December. You can set set your meetings to fit your schedule--evenings and weekends are available--but we do ask they take place at the Double Discovery Center on Columbia's campus.
Professional college counselors at the Double Discovery Center will advise students on the big stuff--from creating an appropriate list of colleges to navigating financial aid--so you don't have to be an expert to help. A personal college mentor plays a vital role in keeping track of deadlines, organizing application materials, and helping a student stay positive and motivated throughout the process.
A large amount of a mentor's time will be helping a student draft and edit their personal application essays. Our students have very little writing experience and are usually unfamiliar with the personal essay genre. Helping students express their personal narratives and articulate their desire to attend college is one of the most rewarding and consuming tasks our college mentors undertake.