Virtual advisors help lower-income students navigate college admissions

Noting that nearly one in four high-achieving high school students from low-income families navigate the college application process completely on their own, NPR recently highlighted a program that connects those students with virtual college advisors. The CollegePoint program, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, seeks out students from low- or moderate-income families who do well on the PSAT or SAT and reaches out via email to offer a free personal mentor. Through phone appointments, emails, text messages, Skype, and Google Hangouts, CollegePoint advisors help students navigate every stage of the admissions process: selecting colleges for applications; decoding financial aid award letters; budgeting for tuition, fees, and books; and articulating individuals’ ideal college experience in order to select the university with the best fit.

The virtual advisors also attempt to curb undermatching. As explained by Inside Higher Ed, the American Educational Research Association (AERA) recently found that 43 percent of students attend a college less selective than their qualifications would permit. The rate was highest, at 49 percent, among Black students.

Undermatching often occurs when students are not aware of the range of opportunities available to them, or lack financial-aid literacy. AERA’s research also shed light on the consequences of undermatching, finding that undermatched students are less likely to graduate on time than students who attend a school on par with their abilities. Inside Higher Ed notes that “generally the institutions [undermatched] students attend lack the resources of more competitive institutions.”

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