Navigating the path to college can be overwhelming for youth and their families. Between researching and narrowing down a list of colleges to apply to, preparing applications, and piecing together financial aid materials, youth can benefit from the support and guidance of mentors throughout the college and career planning process. This is evidenced by the work of JPMorgan Chase employee mentors that support young men of color in The Fellowship Initiative (TFI), a comprehensive academic, socio-emotional, college access and career readiness support program currently operating in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City with 120 Fellows. 100% of the participants in the program pilot graduated from high school on time and were accepted into college.
Research shows that boys and young men of color face even greater obstacles on the path to college and career. “As early as kindergarten, nearly a quarter of African American boys, three times more than their white counterparts, are already convinced that they lack the innate ability to succeed in school,” according to researcher David Kirp. A literature review of promising practices from the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities concludes that a combination of individual and institutional approaches are needed to improve both college access and completion among boys and young men of color.
An individual approach necessitates culturally relevant and responsive, research-supported interventions to address academics, college knowledge, and social and emotional skills and mindsets among students and their families. An institutional approach involves a longstanding commitment among leaders, administrators, teachers and faculty, community stakeholders, and students themselves within and across relevant entities to work in a highly collaborative environment.
The TFI mentors are playing an active role in preparing the Fellows for college by sharing their own college experiences, equipping the Fellows with key questions to ask while visiting colleges, coaching the Fellows through the writing of their personal statements, and forecasting the expenses associated with college. As a result, the Fellows are demonstrating more confidence in their ability to go to college, meeting application and scholarship deadlines, and integrating new perspectives into their decision-making process.
Mentor Michigan highlights five key behaviors that mentors should practice with youth planning for college:
- Listen: Be receptive and listen when youth want to discuss college and/or career plans. Actively listen to what is not being said and empathize with their concerns and fears.
- Explore: Help youth explore college and career options. Collect as much information as possible.
- Encourage: Encourage youth by helping them see the connection between college and careers. Speak positively about college and share your own college experiences.
- Be Aware: Be aware of various deadlines for applications and financial aid, and continually raise awareness of key steps on their college planning pathway.
- Be Supportive: Be supportive without judging and encourage youth to remain focused on college planning milestones. Celebrate accomplishments along the way.
To support mentors who are working with youth on their path to college, JPMorgan Chase has collaborated with MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership to publish Finding the Greatness Within: Supporting College and Career Success for Young Men of Color. Here are a few of the college planning recommendations:
Help Youth Develop a College Planning Checklist
In the fall of a young person’s senior year, mentors should remind youth to stay academically focused while engaging in other school, community and leadership opportunities. It’s also best for students to complete the FAFSA and college admissions tests such as SAT and/or ACT in the fall. Youth should be encouraged to complete and submit college and scholarship applications well ahead of deadlines. Visiting colleges where acceptance is secured and finalizing all financial aid offerings is also recommended.
Guide Youth in Selecting Colleges to Apply To
- Coach youth on what to consider when visiting colleges, utilizing this college visit checklist.
- Guide youth in selecting their “best fit” colleges:
- Seek out personal recommendations.
- Focus on academic goals.
- Explore extracurricular and social opportunities.
- Investigate housing options.
- Attend college fairs and speak to diverse individuals (admissions, students, faculty).
- Compare financial aid offerings and consider all college expenses.
- Remember, no decision is truly final.
Coach Youth in Writing College Essays
- Help youth think through the outline of their essay by asking them questions to surface the key information and prioritize stories that they want to communicate in the essay.
- Coach youth on how to write their college essays using the following recommendations from the National Association of College Admission Counseling and US. News & World Report:
- Be yourself – differentiate yourself.
- Be honest.
- Take a risk.
- Keep in focus – avoid over communicating.
- Write and re-write – focus on storytelling.
- Get a second opinion.
- Represent the best of you (be professional).
- Look at the essay in the context of the whole application package / process.
- Review at least 3 drafts of each college essay and provide youth with feedback on what is strong and what could be enhanced.
Explore Financial Aid Opportunities with Youth
- Brainstorm a list of potential sources of financial aid for college (i.e. FAFSA, scholarships, grants, loans, work study, personal savings, etc.).
- Review the FAFSA: How to Guide for HS Students with youth and their parents/guardians.
- Work with youth on developing a college budget including expenses outside of tuition, room, and board, such as transportation, books, and class supplies. Research tips on saving money leading up to and throughout college as well as minimizing college expenses. JPMorgan Chase created the Your Path to Savings worksheet to help individuals develop a personal budget, and Mint.com offers a college budget template that mentors can use with youth.
Leverage Strengths and Build Skills
- Work with youth on developing and practicing skills that the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook 2016 survey reports that employers are seeking, such as leadership skills and a strong work ethic, the ability to work in a team, communication skills (written and verbal), problem-solving skills, and initiative. This will help youth differentiate themselves in the college admissions process. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor developed Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success, which mentors can leverage for skill-building activities.
- Encourage engagement and celebrate achievements in extra-curricular activities that help strengthen young people’s self-esteem and self-confidence.
- Help youth to reflect on their strengths and identify opportunities to leverage and further evolve these strengths both in school and in the community.
There is no shortage of opportunities for mentors to support youth as they prepare for college. Despite the process feeling overwhelming at times and daunting, mentors can help youth and their families manage their stress, break down the process into achievable tasks, and celebrate progress and achievements along the way. For many young men of color, engaging in mentoring relationships focused on college readiness is very much a journey in self-discovery and an opportunity to define their identity and pursue their goals with the support of a caring adult.
Dan Horgan is the CEO of D.G. Horgan Group and is the Corporate Partnerships Consultant for MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.
MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership is the unifying champion for quality youth mentoring in the United States. MENTOR’s mission is to close the “mentoring gap” and ensure our nation’s young people have the support they need through quality mentoring relationships to succeed at home, school, and ultimately, work. To achieve this, MENTOR collaborates with its network of affiliate Mentoring Partnerships and works to drive the investment of time and money into high impact mentoring programs and advance quality mentoring through the development and delivery of standards, cutting-edge research and state-of-the-art tools. Connect with MENTOR on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.