Program overview

  • Coaching students through the college application process: College coaching is a mentorship intervention designed to support high school seniors in applying for college. In one implementation, college coaching increased female high school seniors’ enrollment in college, but showed no effect on male high school seniors.

  • Identifying students who may need additional support: College coaching programs are led by college admissions offices, in partnership with local high schools. High school guidance counselors identify and recruit students to participate in the program. Typically, these are students who have expressed interest in attending college but have made little to no progress towards applying.

  • Connecting students with mentors: The college then partners paid undergraduate mentors with participating high school students. College mentors typically spend two to three hours per week supporting each student in applying for college. This support may include tracking mentees’ progress on applications, assisting them in outlining application essays, keeping track of their login information, and more. Mentors also serve as a resource for high school students to learn more about the college experience.

  • Reducing financial barriers to applying: Participating high school students also have their application and standardized testing fees paid for by the program. In addition, participating high school students are offered a $100 cash bonus for completing their application processes.

A single study with a rigorous design provides some evidence for college counseling as a strategy for increasing college enrollment.

  • A 2017 randomized controlled trial found that the offer of mentoring increased college enrollment among women by 14.6 percentage points, from an initial rate of 41.1 percent, but had no statistically significant impact on men.

  • The same study found that female high school students who enrolled in college after the coaching program were no more likely to drop out of college than students who enrolled without being mentored.

  • Connect with local high schools: Colleges implementing a college coaching program should begin by identifying nearby high schools that would be readily accessible to mentors. Key stakeholders to secure buy-in from include building-level administrators and school counselors. As a partnership with a high school develops, agreeing to a memorandum of understanding can ensure smoother program operations.

  • Target students who will benefit the most: An evaluation found that the students who benefited the most from the College Coaching program identified themselves as not having parental help on the college application process. The mentors, in effect, take on the role of parents in supporting students through the application process. As such, high school counselors should take note of students who may be receiving less support and then recommend those students for the program.

  • Prioritize high-contact mentorship: An evaluation found that offering a cash reward for college application completion (without coaching attached) had an insignificant effect on college enrollment. The same study found that an intervention that mailed students information about how to apply to college had no effect on enrollment rates. As such, while financial and information barriers do deter students from applying, process barriers are also significant. Colleges should not stop at waiving application fees, but should also prioritize mentorship throughout the application process.

  • Track student success after enrollment: Enrollment in college is only one measure of student success; another is college credit completion. Colleges should track the academic success of their mentees after enrollment, and connect these students to student success programs.