On The East Side, High School Seniors Work To Perfect Their College Apps
College apps for UCs and CSUs are due November 30, which means it’s crunch time for high school seniors.
On the east side of the city, one nonprofit took advantage of the Thanksgiving break to give students in the area crucial last-minute support.
InnerCity Struggle has been part of the community for decades, taking on a host of issues including health care and affordable housing. Advocating for high-quality public education is also central to its mission. In recent years, the organization has doubled down on efforts to help local youths earn college degrees.
Earlier this week, InnerCity Struggle facilitated three days of in-person and virtual office hours for local seniors, inviting them to bring their college applications for a thorough review.
“The deadline is right around the corner, so we know that students might be rushing or trying to do that final push,” said Beatriz Rafael, the organization’s academic advisor.
At the moment, the nonprofit works solely with students who attend high schools in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, El Sereno and Lincoln Heights. This, in part, is because of COVID-19.
“Before the pandemic, our students were always welcome to come into the office,” said Rafael. “Back then, we offered this service not only during this break, but also every day after school.”
Last year, staff made themselves available on Zoom. This year, the organization is offering a hybrid model. Students who want in-person interaction can pop in so long as they follow health protocols. Those who prefer to stay at home can get help online.
At the nonprofit’s office building on Whittier Boulevard, Rafael and her colleagues sat with students and posed questions that pushed them to hone their writing. “How are your responses coming?” they asked. “Can we make them stronger?”
In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, InnerCity Struggle turned to social media to rally volunteers. The goal was to ensure that no application went unread.
The social media push was a hit. Dozens signed up to help, including people who grew up in the area and still remembered how murky the application process had been for them.
Many of the students who sought application support will be the first in their families to study at a university, added Rafael, who was herself a first-generation college student at UCLA. “Thankfully, I had teachers who helped me navigate the process. But it wasn’t easy. We have also seen that counselors are usually overwhelmed by so many students so we want to have that one-on-one support where we can provide the youth individual attention," she said.
Kristen Roman is a senior at Wilson High School in El Sereno, where she serves as president of a cultural group and plays tenor saxophone in the school band. Roman dreams of studying at NYU or Columbia but she wants to make sure she has options.
She had already submitted her CSU application when she went to InnerCity struggle for support this week. She’d also drafted her answers to the personal insight questions for the UC undergraduate application.
“I just want another pair of eyes before I turn them in,” Roman said.
Because the cost of going to college can serve as a real barrier, InnerCity Struggle also helps with applications for financial aid, including the California Dream Act for undocumented students.
“The process looks different for every student,” said Rafael, “so we’re just making sure that we have all hands on deck so we can support them.”