San Jose State college students help high schoolers navigate the college application process
Published by the San Jose Mercury News Dec. 25, 2011.
By Sharon Noguchi
‘Tis the season when one of the most dreaded experiences in high school — applying to colleges — reaches its moments of crisis. While most seniors aiming for California’s public universities have sent applications, new deadlines loom for out-of-state and private schools.
A handful of San Jose State students, along with dozens elsewhere, are almost joyfully forgoing winter break to shepherd bewildered high school seniors through the application process.
The volunteers are part of Strive for College, a growing nonprofit group that pairs college students with high schoolers, most who are the first in their families to attend college. The volunteers help the struggling high school students navigate the formidable maze of applications, letters of recommendation, test-score reporting, scholarship and financial aid forms.
Julia Rodriguez, 22, of Union City, is in her second year of volunteering with Strive. Her reason is simple: “I didn’t want any other student to go through what I went through.” Four years ago, Rodriguez was accepted to four University of California campuses, but she couldn’t attend any because her family couldn’t afford them, and she wasn’t put in touch with anyone who could help. Instead, she’s living at home, attending San Jose State and still paying full tuition.
One of the students she mentors is Luis Jose Hernandez, 17, who hopes to study mechanical engineering and design alternative power for engines. He’s depending on Strive to help him get his applications in to universities in Los Angeles, New York and Kentucky. “If I hadn’t been in Strive, I would have been lost,” he said. Instead, his mentor was on top of things.
Hernandez is one of 34 students at Del Mar High School in San Jose matched with a San Jose State mentor. They’ve met once a week since last winter, initially to make sure they were on track for college, signing up to take entrance examinations and looking at universities.
“It helps us out tremendously,” said Richard Mendoza, a counselor at Del Mar, where the two full-time counselors each handle 580 students. Del Mar, part of the Campbell Union High School District, has no college and career center. While counselors do their best to talk to classes about college preparation, things get a little overwhelming. Juniors and seniors have to take the initiative to ask. And, Mendoza said, “freshmen and sophomores get left in the dark because of lack of time.”
The deadlines, requirements, prerequisites and tremendous costs of college can be overwhelming. As a result, when talking with even good students, Mendoza said, “they don’t think they can afford to go to college.”
Without Strive, they just wouldn’t bother. “It was too much to think about,” said Nayeli Manrique, 17.
Strive is the brainchild of Michael Carter, a San Jose native who founded the group while attending Washington University in St. Louis. As a student at Prospect High in Saratoga, Carter enjoyed the application experience so much that he applied to 24 colleges. He was accepted at 23 and was on a waiting list for one. But he realized that most high school students weren’t like him.
So as part of a community-service program at Washington University, he founded a nonprofit that taps into college students’ expertise and enthusiasm to help low-income students. In four years, Strive has grown to seven chapters at campuses ranging from the Claremont Colleges in Southern California to the University of North Carolina. Soon to come are Vanderbilt and Cal State University campuses from Monterey Bay to San Marcos.
Strive chapters’ regular meetings are winding up, as students have finished applications to California’s public universities. Of the 34 in Del Mar’s Strive program, 25 have applied to four-year colleges, eight plan to attend community college and one may return to the family home in Australia, Mendoza said.
But while college students may know the application process up and down, the Strive program is not as strong on the financing end. Of the 38 students in last year’s Del Mar Strive class, more than three-quarters were accepted to four-year universities. But only 52 percent of the class enrolled. Those who didn’t, Mendoza said, were either undocumented and not eligible for federal or state aid — although California’s Dream Act will change that next year — and the rest simply couldn’t afford a university price tag.
Del Mar will welcome the Strive Class of 2013 next month. But first, those in the Class of 2012 targeting private or out-of-state schools need to get their applications in. “I know they have school and social life and sports,” mentor Julia Rodriguez said, “so I have to remind and push them. They do respond.”