The industry of organizations focused on helping underserved students navigate college started with a focus on admissions: helping those students get into college. Realizing that helping students kick off their college journeys was not enough, many added services to help students persist through college to graduation. But how do educators, parents, and organizations help those students not just get into college and graduate, but thrive while there?
This has become a common story: A young person with relatively few resources beats the odds and gets into a top university just to fall by the wayside upon arriving. While their comparatively privileged classmates dive into extracurriculars, build relationships with professors, and thrive socially, underserved students do not know how to navigate and maximize their opportunities in the higher education environment. Perhaps they graduate (and the statistics capture that outcome), but they do not get the most out of the experience.
Secondary-school educators, families, and institutions of higher education can counter this trend by helping pre-college students develop what we might call academic self-empowerment. This means helping budding scholars develop a sense of the opportunities available to them (in college and beyond) and how to take advantage of them.
Let’s review the data on academic self-empowerment and explore how educators can help students evolve into the drivers of their own collegiate success.
Why academic self-empowerment helps underserved students
Underserved students have what it takes. Oftentimes working with less than average resources and navigating a variety of culturally, geographically, and socioeconomically diverse learning environments, they overcome significant challenges to make it to college. The resilience and determination that they developed along the way will serve them well throughout their lives. However, college life brings a new set of challenges: communicating with advisors, getting the attention of busy professors, exploring a wide range of peer-based networking opportunities, and maneuvering competitively for research and extracurricular positions.
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