Nate Muramatsu: GW students should guide D.C. high schoolers through college applications

For some students across the U.S., going away to college in D.C. doesn’t seem out of reach. But for high school students in the District, it isn’t always attainable to attend a private D.C. university. A GW education is expensive, which makes the University impossible for some low-income students, including those from the area, to attend.

Only 14 percent of GW students receive Pell grants and GW’s cost of attendance is more than $60,000. Right now, less than 10 percent of GW students are from the D.C. area. The low percentage demonstrates that D.C. high school students don’t always have the resources to market themselves as competitive candidates at universities like GW.

Officials are working on ways to make GW more accessible, especially to D.C.-area students, by awarding full-ride scholarships to top students in the District.

Scholarships don’t help students through the process of exploring higher education options and applying to colleges, though. Some low-income students could succeed at GW but may not consider it a realistic option just because they don’t have access to quality college counseling or assistance applying for financial aid and scholarships.

Current GW students should be involved in recruiting and retaining low-income high school students in the D.C. area by helping them apply for scholarships and financial aid. Project Rousseau, a national organization with chapters at GW and some of its peer institutions, helps students living below the poverty line graduate and make it to college. GW’s chapter of Project Rousseau is currently partnered with Luke C. Moore Alternative High School in D.C. to build relationships with students and mentor them in academics. This is a great start, but GW administrators should encourage more students to join it. The University should award class credit to Project Rousseau mentors, and the organization should partner with more high schools around the District. Project Rousseau’s GW chapter declined to comment.

The project’s chapter, with the help of faculty members, could guide younger students through the process of preparing for admissions tests, filling out applications and applying for financial aid and merit scholarships. First-generation and low-income students might be relieved to get help from college students who have recently gone through the application process.

In an ideal model of the updated program, one GW student could be assigned to teach a small group of students at a particular high school about key application and financial aid tips. Currently, these GW students tutor high schoolers – the next step would be to ensure that younger students have someone from GW to rely on for admissions advice, too. The relationships between mentors and mentees that already exist can add to college counseling.

The other crucial aspect of a successful mentorship program will be to award GW students academic credit toward their majors or general education requirements. Without an incentive for GW students to participate and contribute to the program, students will be forced to choose between the program and enrolling in required classes. In order for GW to tackle affordability issues, awarding credit for mentorships would be the most effective way to ensure student participation.

Because GW is the most expensive D.C. school, it only makes sense for it to spearhead the effort to ensure students who usually do not make it to colleges in GW’s price range have a chance at admission to top universities. High school students would have the confidence and security to consider GW through the knowledge and savviness they would gain through the program.

Tackling college affordability is at the top of GW’s list of challenges. Positioning GW students to guide local high school students through the tricky college application process is an important first step in ensuring that D.C. high schoolers have the tools to be competitive candidates.

Nate Marumatsu, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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