College access programs

Program basics

  • Beginning as early as middle school, aims to assist low-income, first-generation, and other underrepresented groups prepare for and navigate college entry
  • May employ supplementary student services or school reforms to aid students with academic difficulties, counseling, case management, assistance with college applications, mentoring, and scholarships
  • Offers students both academic (such as English, math, and writing) and non-academic college preparedness courses ("college knowledge" lessons, like financial literacy, navigating campus, etc.)

Strength of evidence

Evidence level: Proven (highest tier)

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Proven (highest tier)

Ranked as having the highest level of evidence by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps


Target population

High school-aged children

Program cost

Not available

Implementation locations

  • Nationwide

Dates active

Not available

Outcomes and impact

  • Increased academic achievement
  • Increased college enrollment
  • Particularly effective the earlier they are implemented, with marked increases in college enrollment
  • Increase college awareness and preparedness early in high school, paired with application and financial aid assistance later on

Keys to successful implementation

  • Build sustainable, long-term partnerships with schools and community-based organizations to identify and recruit students who face significant barriers to college entry, such as low-income or first generation students.
  • Work with each program participant to develop an individualized, four-year plan to take courses that will best prepare them to persist in college, including in English, math, science, and social studies.
  • Design and administer academic and non-academic (such as financial literacy or note-taking) assessments of program participants to identify and support those who are falling behind in college preparedness.
  • Create strong communications standards for program administrators and participants; the cadence should be frequent enough that students are aware of their progress toward college admission at any given point, and counselors should provide students with regular guidance on solutions if they fall behind preparedness standards.
  • Develop a mentorship program of recent high school graduates enrolled in college; these mentors should serve as college-going role models who can provide assistance with the college entry process, with meetings occurring on a monthly (at least) basis.
  • Offer students step-by-step, in-person guidance on the college admissions process, including college admission test prep, help searching for schools that match their qualifications, interests, and goals, and preparing application materials.
  • Provide students and families with support and resources on applying for financial aid, grants, and other forms of tuition assistance; frequent communication of upcoming deadlines and requirements is essential.
  • Set and regularly re-evaluate program effectiveness metrics and benchmarks.

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