For my senior-year English class, I listened to an episode of This American Life entitled “Three Miles.” Two high schools that were only three miles from each other – though couldn’t be further apart in terms of demographics and students’ financial backgrounds – established a pen pal program. Their teachers then arranged a field trip so the students could meet each other. The students from the public school in the Bronx were bussed to their partner school, one of the most expensive private schools in New York City. The podcast is emotional and thought-provoking, and made me consider who has access to quality education and what that means for a person’s life outcomes.
In the episode, reporter Chana Joffe-Walt states, “Education is the best way to cross class barriers. And in many cases, education seems to be the barrier.” Though the mythological American Dream posits that education is supposed to free people from their socioeconomic class of origin, often it is an institution that helps keep people trapped.
Lingering questions and anger about educational inequality stuck with me long after listening to this podcast.
Then, during my first semester at Notre Dame, I heard about Matriculate. Matriculate is a non-profit that pairs high-achieving, low-income high school students with current college students.
Studies show that many high schoolers from lower-income backgrounds don’t apply to colleges that are academic matches. Matriculate was founded to ensure that high-achieving students attend schools that are social, academic and financial fits for them, no matter their background.
College student volunteers, known as Advising Fellows, serve as mentors to their high schoolers throughout the application process. They guide their students through everything from building a college list, submitting applications and comparing financial aid offers. The advising takes place virtually, so you and your students can be located anywhere across the country.
As an Advising Fellow, you’ll get assigned anywhere from 1-4 high schoolers per admissions cycle. I’ve worked with 2 students each year, and I meet with them individually at least once a week – sometimes more right before applications are due. You’ll also receive training and instruction so that you feel prepared to work with your students. I had to complete both online and in-person training modules and pass a mock advising session before I was accepted to be an Advising Fellow.
Matriculate also requires that Advising Fellows watch monthly webinars, which cover timely topics (for example, last month’s was about financial aid offers). These webinars provide extremely helpful advice for working with your high schoolers.
Matriculate has so many resources that make my job as an Advising Fellow easier – they have a list of all the colleges with High Graduation Rates, a database with example conversations about important topics and a collection of people to turn to when I have specific problems or questions. Every campus chapter has a Campus Lead – a person who works at Matriculate and is there to support us in our advising relationships – as well as student leaders who serve as resources for all the Advising Fellows in the chapter.
For current college students, I cannot recommend being an Advising Fellow enough! Especially as someone who comes from a privileged background – both of my parents went to college – I feel that I should use my cultural capital to help make a quality college education open to all students. Obviously, this alone isn’t going to reform higher education, but it can still help improve the lives of individual students, which is a starting point. Forming connections with your high school students and guiding them through the entire application process is so much fun and so rewarding.
For high schoolers in the Class of 2022 – if you’d like to work with a college Advising Fellow, you can apply to be part of Matriculate here! There are a few requirements: you must have a GPA of 3.5 or above, have an annual family income of less than $80,000, and attend high school in the United States.