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College Access Programs

College access programs aim to expand educational opportunities for students from low-income and minority communities in order to prepare them to apply to college and enter higher education. These programs often target youth who would be the first in their immediate families to attend college, also known as first-generation college students. These programs may include different types of interventions to promote college access, including providing mentoring, tutoring, and professional development opportunities.

Many college access programs also provide financial counseling services and help prepare students for college entrance exams. In some rural communities, these programs operate as partnerships with the high school, and the programs supplement the work of the existing college advisors. Several national college access programs have been evaluated for their effectiveness. Results from these studies suggest that college access programs have the potential to improve test scores, grades, and college retention rates for students.

Examples of College Access Programs Addressing SDOH

  • Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is one of the largest national programs targeting improvements in college and career readiness of low-income students. GEAR UP helps low-income elementary, middle, and high schools build partnerships with universities and colleges. The program also works with state, local, and community-based organizations to provide support for students. GEAR UP aims to increase students' readiness for higher education, as well as improve high school graduation rates. One rural GEAR UP program in San Luis, Arizona is supporting students in 15 rural Arizona communities. The program has improved high school graduation rates in the schools, provided opportunities for students to visit college campuses, identified potential barriers to college enrollment, and helped students overcome these challenges.
  • The College Knowledge Project in Mississippi and College Countdown MS are both programs that support students through the college admission process, including applying for financial aid. College Countdown MS aims to increase the number of students across the state who apply and are accepted into higher education programs. The program also provides one-on-one financial counseling to help students navigate payment options.
  • The Clemson Emerging Scholars Program in South Carolina provides students with academic and leadership training. The program also helps students navigate the college application process and works with Clemson University to provide opportunities for students to experience life on a college campus. Students are encouraged to apply to any school of their choice, but South Carolina schools are highly encouraged.
  • College Advising Corps is a national program working to encourage low-income, first-generation college students to apply to higher education. The program uses both an in-person model and virtual model that connects college graduates with other students around the country.

Implementation Considerations

As with other educational approaches to address SDOH, college access programs can provide a variety of services to students and their families. These services require additional funding, training, staff, and buy-in from community members, parents, and school officials. Engaging community members, key school officials, and other community decision-makers is essential for ensuring the success and sustainability of these programs.