(This is a guest post by Rova Raveloson, who was a student at Townsend Harris High School. He is now a sophomore at Vassar College where he is exploring the intersection of Economics and Chinese in International Economics. At Vassar, Raveloson is spearheading a potential video game design start-up with his friends, focusing on gamifying education from language acquisition to technical skills development. Rova also serves as a CollegePoint ambassador at Vassar, helping students in the program when they arrive on campus.)
It’s a long road from Townsend Harris High School in Queens to Vassar College, and I don’t mean the 81 miles that show up on Google Maps. It was an even longer road to Queens from Madagascar, where my family emigrated from when I was four years old.
On the one hand, I became a top student at a top New York City public high school. On the other, I was the first in my family to apply to college, so the terrain I had to navigate was completely unknown to me and to my parents.
Luckily, at the start of my senior year, I received a letter from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ CollegePoint program, offering me free virtual college advising. By October, my advisor Kathryn laid out deadlines for me, helped me with my common application, and edited my personal statement. My most significant concern was paying for college and taking out big student loans. When the time came, Kathryn even created a spreadsheet allowing me to compare financial aid offers and where they would leave me five, even ten years down the road.
Initially, my college search was limited to in-state schools that I thought provided the best financial aid packages. One impact of the pandemic is that financial aid applications by low-income students dropped for a second year, and more high-schoolers are choosing to skip college altogether because of steep financial barriers. Many high-achieving, low-income students are also “undermatching,” electing to go to “safety schools” or schools that they think won’t burden them financially, when they could gain acceptance and financial aid to attend more prestigious universities.
So, when Kathryn suggested a list of schools that matched my interest in studying economics, offered students 100 percent financial aid, and were close to where I live with my family in the Bronx, I was surprised that many of the universities were not even on my radar. Kathryn even mediated a conversation between me and my parents to help us align our priorities.
I never would have applied to one of the most expensive colleges in the country, nor understood what options were out there, if it weren’t for my CollegePoint advisor. Applying to college raises enough challenges for low-income, first-generation students and COVID has made it worse. Having the right resources and individualized support brings higher education within our reach.
I was fortunate to have an adult like Kathryn there to support and guide me in the right direction. So now I serve as a student ambassador at Vassar through CollegePoint, where I connect with prospective students to help them navigate a predominantly white institution as first generation, low-income students of color, offer them financial advice, and discuss balancing academic and social commitments. We also have a group chat to continue supporting each other beyond the application process. By creating a safe community that provides encouragement and resources, I hope to offer that same guidance that Kathryn offered me.
Every student should have the support needed to find the college or university that allows them to pursue their aspirations academically and to manage the financial burden after graduation. Students shouldn’t have to rely on good luck. There is more information about CollegePoint on its website.